Managing for results

Do you expect yourself or your employees to achieve results or to do tasks? There seems to be an eternal battle between the two worlds of defined processes and delivering on results.


When interviewing managers – it is common for more than 80% of managers to comment that they manage for results – but in interviewing employees – the message is often quite different.


Is it the job of a manager to manage processes? Research is increasingly showing that managers must have a clear understanding of the outcomes that are expected and to communicate these and let people self organise around how to achieve this. Processes are useful in problem solving and capturing patterns and practices that may be used in the organisation but that they must always be used as guidelines. So the job of the manager is to expect results and to ensure that there are adequate resources and processes to achieve this.


What managers often do is to give the task with exact instructions of how it should be done – and then to expect that it be done in exactly the way that it was outlined initially. When it is not done in the way that was expected, then there are adverse consequences and they come done like the proverbial “ton of bricks”. This is authoritarian management and has been show to have a place in achieving results in extreme emergencies. Achieving results in this way is not sustainable – and demoralises individuals and teams and is often described as micro-management.


There is another way! When you start building a picture of where we want to be and give some guidance on how we might get there – people have a natural ability and tendency to start working together to get there. This self-organising principle is a powerful force in moving an organisation forward. Looking at the most effective leaders in the world – they map the capabilities that their organisations have and they start motivating and inspiring those around them to change the situation and move towards a central vision. Sure – there are still consequences when results are not achieved, and individual accountability is still essential – but there is a lot of power in collective effort.


To determine if you are measuring the process or the result it is important to look at 4 core questions.


1. Are your measures based on how your teams do their work? If you answer yes then you are measuring the process and not the results. Actions and tasks are a means to an end and to a large extent the lowest form of expectation you can have. Results are a much higher level of expectation.


2. Is your measure, measurable? You may think that because the measure that you designed is measurable that it measures a result. You may define your goal as doing something once a month. The goal will be “12 of these a year” and every month you may be proud of achieving that goal. But just because it is measurable does not mean that it achieved anything. Do you know if what you did had any impact? It is often easier to measure parts of a process but just because it is measurable doesn’t mean it is a result.


3. Is it an outcome or a milestone? Are you looking at a snapshot during the process where you can measure your progress toward the end result relative to where you started? If the answer is yes, then you are looking at a result.


4. Did it change anything in the real world? A result changes something in the real world. A result is not an intellectual construct that gets created to make the manager happy. Results are real and tangible changes that move people and organisations forward.


Every manager must learn to make this distinction. It isn’t as simple as it might seem. There are significant benefits to managing results rather than the process.


People have an amazing ability to figure out what they are going to do for themselves. The task of the manager is to evaluate the results of work and how they impact the bottom line. The task of the manager is also to enable people to achieve better results by removing constraints and enhancing the capabilities of organisations.


Another benefit is that your employees are much smarter when they own their own results. The less you interfere with their processes, the more your team has to own what they create. They have to take ownership of their decisions and their risks. As a result, your employees are forced to develop the capacity to be responsible for their own processes, and this, in turn, frees up your time and attention so that you can take on bigger and better things. In the longer term it also creates reflexive thinking. That is that individuals and teams learn to think for themselves and it is not highly dependent on only the skills of the manager. Another critical benefit of measuring results rather than processes is that it makes measurement impartial—the numbers speak for themselves.


What about processes? Processes must always be measured against their usefulness. What many organisations forget is that processes are a codification of what works well, and is a statement of how different people can and need to work together to get something done. Processes are also very dynamic and need to be constantly improved to have any use. Constant improvement implies daily improvement and in many cases we need to look carefully at the value of a specific process to make sure that it adds value. Processes should also largely be facilitated by systems and we should use human effort to achieve results. When people understand where they fit into the result of an organisation – they are generally inspired and achieve more than when they are viewed as a pure process block that has to complete labour.


One of the most challenging aspects of learning to manage is to learn to distinguish between managing processes and managing for results. Your own results will improve if you start focusing on the outcomes that you need to achieve and asking yourself and those around you how we can possibly get there. This collective agreement is then what we put into action and measure. The transition to leadership is also much easier when you have a clear view to an end goal and an eye on the impact that we need to make through the results that we pursue.