Leading Remotely With An Outcome-Based Mindset

Rob Greenhalgh

With the prospect of remote work continuing for the foreseeable future, companies are grappling with how to keep team members engaged and collaborating despite the lack of proximity to one another. Complicating the equation are issues such as Zoom fatigue and the inevitable distractions of home and office being one in the same. As a result of these challenges, leaders are pressed to create efficiencies in terms of productivity, thereby allowing team members to establish better work/life balance and to keep team members collaborating and innovating despite working in a virtual environment.

Outcome-based approaches to work are not new, however, shifting to an outcome-based mindset has quickly become an imperative for leaders. Gallup describes outcome-based cultures as those that let leadership define the end goals and then letting team members determine how specifically to execute them. This approach empowers people, and fuels their creativity to determine the right path to achieving their goals. It allows organizations to be both efficient and adaptable, two qualities with heightened importance in remote work environments. Teresa Amabile, of Harvard University, writes, “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the future.” Leading with an outcome-based mindset achieves exactly that.

Managing Performance

Managing performance is an area that has been shifting to outcome-based approaches during the last few years, but the pace of this trend is increasing as leaders increasingly recognize the value utilizing such approaches has in a remote work environment. One of our clients, a multibillion-dollar manufacturing company undergoing an enterprise-wide transformation, decided this year to accelerate their move towards an outcome-based performance management system. Accompanying that is a commitment to developing their coaching culture, shifting from a command and control culture to one where leaders coach to the behavior that delivers high-value outcomes.

Whether it be OKR’s (Objectives & Key Results) or the 4 Disciplines of Execution, the approach offered by McChesney, Huling and Covey, the key tenets of the approach are the same. People perform at their best when they are focused on a few key priorities with clearly defined outcomes. Such approaches facilitate the ability to measure progress and clearly establish what success looks like. Regardless of which specific approach you choose, keep these tips in mind:

  • Identifying which behaviors will achieve the intended outcomes facilitates a leader’s ability to coach their team member. Said simply, any outcome is a result of the right behaviors, and leaders will accelerate high performance by coaching to those specific behaviors.
  • Setting shorter-term outcomes and celebrating progress towards those outcomes accelerates execution. Reward progress against outcomes, rather than rewarding completing tasks. A sense of accomplishment and reward along the way heightens engagement and the motivation to deliver higher levels of performance.
  • Leveraging an outcome-based approach to goal management to identify the Wildly Important Goals (Chesney, Hulig & Covey) and identify areas of collaboration between individuals or teams that will be required to achieve each goal.

Managing Meetings

A more immediate opportunity to shift to an outcome-based mindset is in the realm of meeting management. Given short attention spans and the very real challenges of keeping people engaged after countless hours of being on video conference, focusing meetings with the clear intent of achieving specifically defined outcomes provides a compelling reason to remain engaged. It also makes it more obvious when meetings begin to veer off course and stray from achieving the pre-established outcomes. Outcome-based meetings are more productive and far more efficient than what people have come to expect in most meetings. The following tips will re-energize your meetings and create better engagement:

  • Propose and socialize the desired outcomes of a meeting with enough time for those joining the meeting to buy-in or offer their own ideas. The more specific the outcomes, the more focused and productive the meeting will be. Commit to avoiding meetings that do not align on outcomes beforehand.
  • Keep report-outs to a minimum. They drain the energy out of meetings and usually provide little value. Other mediums such as e-mail or Slack are better channels for keeping people abreast of what is happening.
  • Use the pre-determined outcomes to reign in meetings that deviate from the intended goals. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s a muscle that can be built over time and will pay dividends in terms of relieving virtual fatigue.

As the traits that define successful leadership quickly evolve in the new work environment, shifting to an outcome-based mindset will keep team members focused and engaged while feeling a stronger sense of accountability. It will also more visibly reward progress and give people a stronger sense of accomplishment when they deliver against their expected outcomes.