Output management is like Artificial Intelligence, many managers talk about it but only few put it into practice

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This way of management is the only option when you have the ambition to establish an agile organization, and colleagues need to be able to use their creativity and talents to the full, resulting in a high level of involvement.

Focus on results, rather than on command-and-control, is the essence of the new organization and leadership.

How come so few managers succeed in this?

Managers are used to continuously providing solutions: often, they are the super-expert and get satisfaction from sharing their expertise and experience. By focusing on the ‘how’, they feel in control. In times of changes and pressure from the top (management), it takes a lot of courage to let go and trust your colleagues... You can only pass on the freedom you get, right? And how else is a manager going to report to his boss about what is about to happen and when?

In order to manage on output, it is very important to focus on the ‘why’ or the challenge, and to be clear and consistent about the playing field in which colleagues can work on solutions. Imagine that you have the solution in mind, but you have to manage in terms of criteria that a good solution should meet…only with a clear formulation of the problem and consistent adherence to the criteria, you can avoid difficult discussions with colleagues. The challenge is to resist the temptation to stop thinking in terms of solutions.

Many managers fall into the trap interfering at the operational ‘how’ level. They have difficulty recognizing operational questions as such and asking colleagues to find answers while helping them to frame the problem and clarify the conditions.

They don’t think in terms of learning opportunities for colleagues, they don’t believe in better solutions in short term and they want to be able to say what’s going on any time.

In order to clarify responsibilities, you can use the following model:

Output management pyramid

Result-driven management requires a change in behavior and even a change in mentality.

For managers, a change is often required on deeply rooted habits and behavior:

  • From offering solutions to letting solutions come from colleagues

  • From managing on content to managing the process

  • From managing on tasks to managing on results

  • From a high responsibility with the manager to high responsibility with the team

  • From distrust to trust in colleagues

Also for colleagues, this way of working requires an adjustment. Some tips for you as a manager to help them to grow in this context:

  • Make sure colleagues feel at ease. Survival is the top priority of the brain! Managers can make colleagues feel more at ease. Threats can be related to fear of making mistakes, fear of the future, or change of status (in a team).

  • Show honesty. Dishonesty is an approach where the brain goes into the red fairly quicky. Managers that walk their talk and show vulnerability while searching themselves, offer a stimulating context. Also be aware of mirror neurons. When we look at someone, the same parts of the brain as the person we are looking at are activated. Exemplary behavior and showing that you are serious about it, are therefore crucial.

  • Pay attention. Letting employees determine the ‘how’ doesn’t mean you are no longer present as a manager. Instead manager show interest in what colleagues are working out and are there for them when needed. For the release of oxytocin, giving attention and being present is of utmost importance! Listening and showing sincere interest in the drives of colleagues are crucial. Giving (and receiving) feedback should become a habit, both by managers as well as close colleagues.

Let go, but how can you ensure that you still build a controllable organization?

When you set an ambition, you also have to be able to show that you are realizing it, both for the employees, management and the customers.

Results should be visible and discussible for everyone. This transparency can be achieved through figures, but there is also a big challenge. Figures sometimes give the illusion of certainty. The urge for measurability is too strong that achieving figures becomes the goal. If you still follow the wrong figures, you don’t know where you are going to end up.

Setting up performance management in which the challenging ambition for the client is broken down into goals and in which (interim) results are discussed, provides a good basis for employees and management. Results are discussed in teams, not to point the finger at each other but to learn from each other and see together how things can be improved. As a manager, what can you have against?


‘Neuroleiderschap, van macht naar kracht’.

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