The Managing By Outcomes Approach

Good leaders often focus on managing by outcomes rather than by tasks. They achieve this by doing the following things.

They show people the picture of success;

They invite people to make clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the picture of success;

They manage by outcomes and focus on people’s actual contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

Good leaders recognise that they cannot actually manage people. Such an approach would be patronising, because people manage themselves.

They can provide people with an inspiring framework, however, and the support they need to do the job. Leaders can then manage people’s contributions towards achieving the team’s goals. Let’s explore how to make this happen.

You can communicate
the picture of success

Imagine you are leading a team. You will communicate a compelling picture of success.

The What: The specific goals to achieve – the picture of success.

The Why: The specific benefits – for the company, colleagues and customers – of achieving the goals.

The How: The key strategies people can follow to achieve the goals.

The Who: The various roles people will play – including the spirit they will need to demonstrate – on the way towards achieving the goals.

The When: The specific things that must be delivered – and by when – on the way towards achieving the goals.

There are many ways to take these steps. One approach is to use some of the following slides.

These break down the overall goals into the areas of Profits, Products – including customer satisfaction – and People. But you may use your own template for describing the desired outcomes.

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You can invite people to make clear
contracts about their contributions
towards achieving the picture of success

This is the crucial part. Superb teams are made up of volunteers, not victims. So give people the opportunity to decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the goals.

Invite them to complete the format at the end of this section. It invites people:

To focus on the picture of success;

To build on their strengths;

To clarify their best contribution towards achieving the picture of success.

People must be able to show what they will deliver in outcome terms. This can be challenging.

Many people are used to writing lists of tasks. They describe what they are going to do, rather than what they are going to deliver.

Spend a lot of time with each person agreeing on ‘What’ must be delivered. Make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve.

Why? Because from then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on this ‘What’ – the agreed outcomes – rather than get into ‘supervising’ the tasks.

After such a contracting session, for example, here is how one team leader might describe their contribution under the 3 Ps.

My Contribution To The Picture of Success


To ensure my team achieves its financial targets – a profit of £500k;

To develop 3 new customers and do work with them that delivers a profit of £100k;

To reduce our overheads by £100k.


To ensure more than 90%+ of our customers say they are extremely satisfied with our work;

To develop 2 new products, pilot these successfully with customers and then launch these products by the end of the year;

To simplify 2 of our complex products to ensure these are more user friendly for customers and then get a further £100k’s worth of orders for these before the end of the year.


To deliver an internal morale rating of 90%+ of our team members saying they enjoy coming to work each day;

To educate, equip and enable 2 of my team members to win promotion and move on to other roles in the company;

To recruit 4 new positive team members who take responsibility, build on their strengths and get some early successes that contribute towards achieving the team’s goals;

There are many different formats that people can follow to produce their goals. The one above invites people to follow the 3P framework.

Below is a more generic framework called My Contribution Towards Achieving The Picture of Success. This invites each person to focus on the following themes.

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After agreeing on the outcomes, make sure people are given the necessary support required to do the job. Otherwise you are asking them to climb a mountain without the right equipment.

Good leaders set up people to succeed. They then encourage, educate and enable them to do superb work.

You can manage by outcomes by
focusing on people’s
to achieving the picture of success

One approach is to meet with each person every month. They are to prepare ahead of time and complete the following framework. You can then work through it together during the session.

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Create an encouraging environment where people can share their successes and challenges. During the conversation, however, keep returning to the agreed ‘What’. You can say:

“Let’s go back to the real results to achieve. How can we do our best to deliver those results? What are the steps we need to take to make this happen?”

Why take this approach? People can get into a pattern of talking about details, making excuses or whatever. They may also confuse activity with results.

Certainly sometimes it is vital to revisit the aims to ensure these are still desirable and possible. But then it is good to go back to the ‘What’. Whether it concerns profits, product quality or people, the mantra is:

“Let’s go back to agreed outcomes. How can we do our best to deliver those results?”

Sounds tough? Perhaps, but it is also a good way of leading a team. People learn:

To clarify the specific goals that are written in outcome terms;

To make clear contracts about the goals, including the required support;

To take responsibility, be creative and do their best to deliver the agreed outcomes.

Many leaders face a particularly difficult challenge as they get older.

They find that their control needs great stronger;

They realise that they will be judged by their people’s performance, rather than being able to do every job themselves.

How to square this circle? One approach is for them to manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. Taking this step can help to build an even more self-managing and successful team.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on the theme of managing by outcomes. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks.

Describe the specific benefits of managing by outcomes.

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