Output-driven management: delegating and letting go
Employees are motivated when they feel they have freedom in how they do their work. By giving them more responsibility in how they perform their work duties, their talents are better utilised and their creativity is stimulated. This often leads to greater job satisfaction and in many cases the quality of work is raised. Except for the fact that "giving more freedom" is easier said than done for managers. The philosophy of output-driven management is helpful here.
Input management focuses on the level of effort and on activities, such as achieving a certain number of hours worked, client visits or reports. However, this does not guarantee that any underlying objectives (such as customer satisfaction) will be achieved.
Yet we still often see managers directing things on this operational level. They demand an arbitrary number of resolved telephone calls from their employees or determine in every detail what exactly the result should resemble. In the case of output management, the manager determines the objectives and criteria that need to be met and then entrusts employees with coming up with an appropriate solution.
In other words: output describes the envisaged objective and the framework, input describes the exact amount of effort or solution.
The art of delegation
In the book ‘Leidinggeven zonder bevelen: de outputmanager’, (‘Leadership without orders: the output manager’), Vandendriessche and Clement contend that managers should work on a strategic and tactical level. They should concern themselves with the ambition and (strategic) objectives and the underlying criteria that the work has to meet (tactical).
The staff members are active on an operational level in the organisation. They are more experienced in the process or are closer to the client, and therefore often know what is going on. If managers move to the operational level, where their employees have much more experience and knowledge of the ins and outs, then the chance of disagreements and conflicts is at its greatest.
After all, as soon as managers start mandating specific operational solutions, their employees can justifiably enter into a discussion: "Why go for this specific solution and not another one?" Managers should therefore leave the operational level in the hands of their people."
Criteria gives room for manoeuvre
A manager should not only be clear about the objectives and ambitions, but also about the criteria. These form the framework for the solutions that are expected from the employees. These criteria include a timetable, budget, quality standards, feasibility, customer-friendliness, but also less obvious matters such as gaining the approval of a trade union. As soon as an employee knows which criteria their solution needs to meet, they will know exactly in which areas they can manoeuvre.
Example of a formulation of an assignment
A company wants to undertake action to retain its high-potential employees. The management board saw the following potential assignment formulations for the Human Resources department:
A) Work out a 360◦ evaluation programme based on the TMA method for our high potentials;
B) Offer every high potential that is in danger of leaving our company an individual training budget to keep them on board;
C) Draw up a plan to keep our high potentials as motivated as optimally as possible;
D) Make a plan, which fits into the 2022 departmental budget, to manage the company so that no high potential will leave us unscheduled.
Formulations A) and B) are input formulations. The question then arises: "Why do it this way?", "Why not another way?".
Formulation C) is vague and gives rise to discussions about what is meant by "optimally possible".
Formulation D) is an output formulation with a mission and clear criteria against which success can be measured.
Output management is not the Egg of Columbus. Certain preconditions must be met in order to be able to lead successfully in an output-driven way.
On the part of the employees, it is essential that they:
- Have a certain level of professional maturity and experience to be able to shape the solution independently.
- In addition, it must fit within the work environment and position. For instance, it may be less relevant for production workers on an assembly line.
- All criteria should be set in advance and not after the fact
- The manager must always remain inside the 'helicopter', and limit their involvement to strategic and tactical instructions. The manager should not be tempted to issue operational statements.
- The manager should accept the solution(s) offered, as long as they are in line with the criteria/objectives, even if it is not the solution that she/he would have thought of themselves. Delegating is an art in itself, letting go is even more difficult.