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    Doing Work That Matters: How to Build an Output-Based Culture

    Posted by Steve Black on Sep 9, 2020 10:27:54 AM

    In my last blog, I contrasted input v. output based cultures. Input-based cultures focus upon superficial metrics (hours worked, number of emails processed, number of meetings attended). Many organizations may not say they prize these things, but they are reinforced through misaligned purposes, plans, and outcomes. Output-based cultures focus upon metrics that matter (hitting revenue numbers, new product innovations, efficiencies in the production process, pipeline activities). Output-based cultures showcase alignment between purposes, plans, and outcomes. How is this done, though? How does an organization create an aligned and purposeful culture that produces desired outcomes? To understand this, I want to review the “Cultural Ecosystem."

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    What is Culture?

    Culture is not beer on tap, pool tables, or open office environments. These may express/reinforce an organization’s culture, but they are NOT the culture. Rather, culture is the organizational ecosystem comprised of Purposes, Plans, Connectors, and Outcomes. Output-based cultures know how to align these while input-based cultures fail to do so.

    Purposes:

    Output-based cultures have clear and compelling purposes. These define who the organization is and where it is heading. You will find them on the organization’s website page entitled “About Us.” Yes, these are the organizations’ Mission, Vision, and Values. Output-based cultures do an amazing job of making these come to life! Through story-telling, recognition, and other supports, team-members understand who the organization is and where it is headed. 

    Plans:

    Output-based cultures have strategic plans that connect where the organization wants to go and how to get there. Such plans are not mere off-site sessions resulting in file folder decorations. No, these plans are monitored, adjusted, and communicated throughout the plan implementation cycle. 

    Connectors:

    Output-based cultures recognize that alignment between Purposes, Plans, and Outcomes requires aligned connectors. The primary connectors are People, Processes, Infrastructure, and Governance/Risk Mitigation/Compliance. For instance, when the People of an organization fully realize how their job connects with the mission, vision, values, and strategic plans, greater ownership takes place. When a person knows how his/her performance outcomes align with the organizational goals, productivity and engagement increases. Without these connectors being aligned, Purposes and Plans never result in fully realized Outcomes. 

    Outcomes:

    Outcome-based cultures have outcomes tied to Purposes and Plans. These are not haphazard results. No, they are defined outcomes that result in doing what the organization seeks to do. To ensure the right outcomes occur, outcome-based cultures develop leading and lagging indicators to gauge and track performance. Yes, surprises, challenges, and opportunities will arise, but these organizations have a path to where they want to go.

    How do You Create an Output-Based Culture?

    Outcome-based cultures do not just “happen.” Organizational leaders MUST be intentional about how and what they communicate, who they hire, what they track, what they reward/recognize, what they correct, and how work gets done. This is challenging, but it is a proactive approach as oppose to reactively “cleaning up messes” caused by misalignment, lack of clarity, and wrong focus.

    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate Your Purposes, Plans, and Outcomes

    Outcome-based cultures prize alignment and clarity. That is why purposeful, timely, and frequent communications (e.g.—regular town hall meeting, cascading messages, story-telling) are essential. When leaders effectively communicate the purposes of the organization (mission, vision, and values) in ways that create common bonds and anchoring norms, team-members rally around common causes. This is GOOD. When leaders effectively communicate how strategic plans align with purposes, team-members see a road map to fulfilling them. This is VERY good. When leaders effectively communicate the needed outcomes to fulfill the purposes and plans, team-members know exact expectations and they can work toward fulfilling them. This is GREAT! The better the communication, the better the alignment. The better the alignment, the greater the productivity, job satisfaction, employee engagement, voluntary retention, and organizational reputation. 

    Create Job Descriptions That Focus Upon Outcomes…Not Lists of Mundane Activities

    This may not be an appropriate thing to say, but most job descriptions suck. Many are outdated and capture bare minimum requirements of the job. They focus upon inputs instead of outputs. As organizations change in size, scope, or complexity, there is a need to review all job descriptions and ensure they align with what each employee needs to do to stay in alignment. Processes may change. Plans may change. Outcomes may change. If there is not intentional evolution to job descriptions and what an employee must do, outcomes will not meet what is needed.

    Rework Your Processes to Connect Your Purposes, Plans, and Outcomes

    As organizations grow, processes MUST change. A process that worked when there were ten employees in a single office will no longer work for an organization with 100 employees and two locations. If not addressed, add-ons, by-passes, and “tweaks” will hijack the original intent of the process. Worse, multiple people needing to do the same process are likely doing them differently. This creates inefficiencies and ineffectiveness preventing optimal outcomes. To address such issues, process reviews should take place regularly by leaders and people utilizing the process. 

    Use Metrics That Matter

    The purpose of a metric is to provide guidance, give warning, or affirm success. When an organization uses a disconnected metric, it creates confusion and sends the wrong message of what needs to be done. For instance, HR professionals love the time to hire metric. In some industries, it makes sense. For others, it does not. If hiring people quickly is important, it may make sense if it is coupled with other metrics such as the quality of hire and performance over a set timeframe. If hiring quickly does not matter, do not use the metric. 

    Align Rewards and Recognition to Outcomes

    Make it known loud and clear the type of outcomes you want! How? Deliver verbal and written praise…privately and publicly! Hand out money, organizational swag, gift cards, and other tangible rewards! When a person accomplishes a defined organizational outcome, celebrate! Reinforcing the types of behavior an organization needs is a leader’s job. When done right, team-members know what to do…not just what NOT to do.

    Enact Corrective Action for Performance and Behavior That is Not in Line with Desired Outcomes

    On the flip side, leaders must call out poor performance. When a team-member knows what to do, has the tools to do, and the support to get it done and does not do it, it is important to have a robust coaching and corrective action process. The goal is to correct poor behavior and/or performance. If this cannot be done, it is important to communicate reasons why the team-member is not a fit for the job. This can be done benevolently, honestly, timely, and respectfully. Not telling a person they are performing poorly and then terminating their employment with little warning is poor leadership (in most cases).

    This is not an exhaustive list. Much more can be said, but the point is leaders must be intentional to build, nurture, and protect output-based cultures. They do not just happen. Alignment, communication, reflection, and revision must take place…ongoing. Cultures are dynamic…not static. Therefore, ongoing attention must take place. 

    What about an output-based culture attracts the best people? The best people want to associate themselves with purpose. They want to be part of something big. This only happens when there is a clear message that resonates.

     

    Need assistance with addressing short and long term HR needs for your business? Contact me at steve.black@brixeyandmeyer.com, and we will address them proactively.

    Disclaimer: This blog is not legal advice, but merely informed opinion or general information meant for no particular purpose. Issues addressed in this blog often implicate federal, state, and local labor and employment laws. This blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers should consult labor and employment counsel to determine whether their particular policies, procedures, decisions, or courses of action comply with such laws. 

    Topics: Takeaways, culture, onboarding, hiring, Growing, HR, Human Resources, Growth, workplace productivity, Success, Management, Employee Retention

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