Central to working smarter is managing people by the results of what they do, rather than the time they put in.

Inputs and outputs basics

The following figure sketches out the relationships between the inputs and results of work, outlining the factors that managers need to oversee.

Figure 1: Inputs, outputs and outcomes in a Smart Working context

(Triple Bottom Line refers to the benefits for the business, individual and the environment)

Managers need to focus on achieving targeted outputs and outcomes from the work people do. From that, they then need to calculate the required inputs in terms of the number of person-hours, physical resources, skills (etc) to achieve those results.

When managers manage by presence and time-based measures, they are focusing primarily on one aspect of the inputs – monitoring the hours put in. Shifting focus to the output of work means that the emphasis falls on how effective that work is rather than the duration and location of work activities. That provides the basis for making adjustments to the inputs in order to improve productivity and quality.

So the first steps in managing by results are:

  • To be absolutely clear what the results should be
  • To have a clear and shared understanding amongst the team of what inputs are necessary to achieve the targeted results.

Where Smart Working makes a difference

Having greater flexibility around where and when work is done (the Smart Working decisions in the diagram) can contribute to increased productivity. That is, if the same or greater/better quality outputs can be achieved through reduced input costs, then productivity has increased.

So time put into work should be utilised more effectively. Collaboration should be enhanced by using new technologies and techniques for running more effective meetings or replacing them altogether. Processes should be streamlined and modernised. All this involves thinking innovatively about how work is to be done.

And Smart Working should bring additional benefits. Enabling people to work in smarter and more flexible ways can reduce absenteeism, increase staff retention, improve engagement and motivation, reduce unnecessary travel (etc). These types of benefits are also measurable. Some of this measurement will be at the level of the team or business, some of it at the corporate level.

 “But my kind of work is not measurable”

This can be quite a challenging area for managers, as some kinds of work are more easily measurable in terms of output than others.

Sometimes people might say, “We’re not making widgets here – our kind of work is highly specialised and isn’t measurable”, or “My kind of work is reactive and unpredictable, it’s very hard to quantify”. These kinds of statements often go hand-in-hand with working practices where employees are required to be always under the manager’s eye and work is allocated on a reactive basis.

However, all work has to measurable in some way, even if it’s challenging to do so. Otherwise, it would be impossible to schedule work or know how many people need to be employed to do it.

A useful way to analyse the work a team does is to segment it into different categories, for example:

  • Process work
  • Project work
  • Case or account work
  • Innovation work
  • Support work
  • Managerial work.

The resource Segmentation of Work for Management by Results gives more detail about these different kinds of work with examples of the measurable outputs.

If work is unpredictable or reactive, as in some parts of support or managerial work, there are two useful ways to begin to quantify it:

  • aggregate the work activities across a team or over a period of time and come up with ‘on average’ figures. An individual or a team may get a mix of easy-to-resolve issues, difficult issues and long-term challenging issues, but on average an individual or the team as a whole will deal with n instances of each per month (etc)
  • treat long-term issues with uncertain outcomes as a series of mini-projects, each with its own set of deliverables. Then you can know if everything is on track for a good result.

Having oversight of work-in-progress as well as final deliverables

While the primary focus is on the results, managers need to be sure that work is progressing smoothly en route to the desired results.

This requires:

  • Good systems for tracking work-in-progress, wherever and whenever people are working
  • Commitment from all parties involved in the work to update systems and share work-in-progress, not keep it tucked away on the hard drive of their laptop or filed in non-standard ways.

A team approach to management by results

People of course work at different levels of capability, usually depending on their experience. Some people will achieve planned results quicker than others and with better quality. According to some management gurus, once they have achieved the results then they need not do anything else.

However, all teams have a mix of capabilities and experience. So those who achieve the results faster can play a role in helping to mentor and upskill the others. It may also be the case that expectations about how quickly the work can be done need to be revised.

Empowering, trusting, measuring, and calibrating

Management by results involves empowering team members within agreed guidelines and agreed working patterns to decide how best to do their work. Then the manager has to trust them to do the agreed work, while having the systems and agreed behaviours that enable him or her to have insight into their work as it progresses, and then evaluate it when it is delivered. That provides the basis for making any necessary adjustments to the resources allocated for the current work or when planning future work.

Empowerment and trust require responsibility and accountability from the team members. So a key behaviour is to comply with agreed reporting structures and notify the manager and/or colleagues of any issues or problems emerging or on the horizon as the work is carried out. Team members should also be encouraged to think innovatively about how work can be done more efficiently and how to achieve better quality. Often the best ideas come from people on the front line who can see on a daily basis where improvements can be made.

These kinds of arrangements can be embedded in Team Agreements.