Greg Long and Butler Newman

Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation

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No Time to Coach



“Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.” This complaint comes from practically every company we work with.

We get this response when we suggest that a critical element in improving team performance is the first-line leader’s ability to provide meaningful direction and feedback to each team member. Success, however, in this endeavor is complicated by three factors:

  1. Many first-line leaders are promoted to their positions because they demonstrated a high degree of competence in their primary role. In other words, they are promoted for being a top performer not because they are necessarily ready to lead other performers.
  2. Most top performers have become “unconsciously competent” at what they do. So though they are proven, consistent performers, they typically are not able to easily describe the essential elements of how they have been able to achieve success.
  3. When there is clear ability to perform and an equally clear challenge in explaining to others how to exceed, the result is the familiar first-line leader response of, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” Doing it yourself is, of course, a time-consuming approach.

These factors combine to create a dissonance that stands in the way of strong, meaningful coaching conversations between first-line leaders and their teams. This dissonance manifests itself through the fundamental problem statement that, “Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.”

When this problem statement is juxtaposed against another common concern, we frequently hear, “Our teams are not performing the way we need them to, and we think we have a major gap in our first-line leader talent pipeline.” This mindset creates one of the most pressing conundrums in business today. Left unsolved, this issue undermines daily operational performance, execution of new or evolving strategies, and the fundamental talent pipeline critical to growth and expansion.

We will present viable options to this challenge in our outcomes-based coaching series.

Question to ponder:

  • How are you or your company currently equipping your front-line leaders to successfully address their responsibility for the overall performance and growth of their teams?


Initiative-Based Outcomes

Initiative-Based Outcomes

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

In a recent post, we talked about how an outcomes-based approach enables companies to rearrange roles by simply shifting outcomes between roles. Reassigning outcomes to different people makes it easy to restructure jobs because of changing conditions such as corporate growth. What we didn’t mention, but is equally valuable, is what we’ll call temporary outcomes.

Assume for a minute that a company decides to launch a short-term initiative, perhaps implementing a new technology or introducing a new product. To realize the desired benefits, those types of initiatives usually require additional work on the part of a few key roles.

Using an outcomes-based approach dramatically simplifies assigning, managing, and keeping track of that additional short-term work. Simply define the new work as a set of outcomes, and then assign those outcomes to the impacted roles. The teams and managers are already familiar with an outcomes-based approach where they consider and track the consistent production of key outcomes, so they will treat the new initiative-based outcomes the same way. Breaking the initiative into very specific outcomes significantly improves the odds of success.


Question to ponder:

  • Are the people in your key roles clear on how they contribute to the success of short-term or strategic initiatives?


Shared Outcomes

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

In our last post, we talked about how reviewing outcomes helps us handle changes to individual roles by making sure all the work is accounted for. At the end of that post, we mentioned the concept of shared outcomes. In our discussions so far, we’ve focused mostly on the idea that individual roles each have unique outcomes. For a large part, that’s true. People in most critical roles do have their own set of unique outcomes. Consistently producing those outcomes with excellence leads to job excellence.

But increasingly there are job situations, such as in sales, where small teams of people filling different roles share responsibility to produce key outcomes. One example might be a client-focused account team with the shared outcome of producing an “aligned and informed client.” Everyone on the team shares the responsibility of consistently producing that outcome.

Some people think that sharing might make the outcomes approach more confusing. But we’ve seen just the opposite. For small teams, this method is clarifying.

The team lead typically owns the outcome, just like he or she is responsible for the overall performance of the team. Each team member, in addition to his or her individual outcomes, also shares the production of that common outcome. In our example, everyone is continually focusing on doing his or her part to improve alignment with the client. Of course, that requires a bit of additional coordination and communication between team members. But that’s exactly what excellent performance demands and what top team leads expect.


Questions to ponder:

  • Do your teams have shared outcomes? Are the team members clear on which outcomes they share and which they own individually?

Job Changes

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

One of the questions we frequently hear is “how do outcomes work when jobs change so frequently?”

It’s a great question. We live in a rapidly changing work world where jobs are constantly changing and evolving. Companies shift responsibilities between roles. Companies change strategies and add or subtract responsibilities from roles. All those factors lead to changes in the basic makeup of each critical role. So how do we handle those changes when using an outcome-based approach?

First let us set up a scenario and see how it works. Assume there are three critical positions, each with a unique set of outcomes—something like this:

Role 1 Role 2 Role 3
Outcome A

Outcome B

Outcome C

Outcome D

Outcome E

Outcome F

Outcome G

Outcome H

Outcome I

Outcome J

Outcome K

Outcome L


For simplicity, we’ve assumed no two roles share any outcomes and each role has exactly four outcomes.

Now the company decides to make a change and eliminate one position—role 3. Here’s the key question: what about the outcomes currently being produced by people in that role? Are those outcomes no longer needed because of some change in the overall strategy? Can they be produced by someone else, or will that overload that other role?

In this case, the company must look at outcomes I, J, K, and L. For each, a specific decision must be made. Perhaps one is no longer needed, one can be added to role 1 and two can be added to role 2. By evaluating the role at the outcome level, a more accurate assessment of the work is possible.

The opposite situation works equally well. Say a change in strategy points to the need for new outcomes and potentially a new role. Once the aspirational outcomes are clear, the following questions should be asked: Will these outcomes require a new role? Can they be picked up by the existing roles? Or can the existing roles share the responsibility to produce the new outcomes? Wait—shared outcomes? That’s a topic for another post.


Question to ponder:

  • When you modify jobs, what process do you use to make sure all the work is accounted for?

What Do You Do with Outcomes?—Examining Your Job Designs

Examining your job designs

Image by Stuart Miles at

Here’s a bonus blog in our mini-series on what companies are doing with outcomes. In the previous blogs in this series, we’ve discussed using outcomes

  • as the focal point for training design
  • as the basis for equipping people with the right tools, processes, and information
  • as the foundation for identifying potential candidates to hire
  • as the target for coaching efforts designed to improve performance

But there is yet another use for outcomes that some companies are employing—as a key indicator of whether the breadth of job responsibilities is too small, too broad, or just about right.

In our experience, top performers in critical roles focus on anywhere from four to seven key outcomes. By extension, each of those key outcomes demands anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the top performers’ work focus and energy. Interestingly, those top performers have told us that anything that falls below that threshold of focus and energy simply isn’t worth the time and effort. In other words, those things just don’t matter to success on the job.

How does knowing this help with evaluating job scope? Simple. After conducting a TOPS analysis and mapping the key outcomes of a role, leaders should stop and review the list of outcomes. If there are more than about seven key outcomes, chances are pretty good that at least a couple of them are performed so infrequently that they really aren’t critical to success. Having too many outcomes causes people to divide their time and attention too much to concentrate on the few things that really matter.

On the other end of the scale, if there are fewer than about four outcomes, it’s quite possible that the job is not broad enough to command the sustained attention of top performers. People want and deserve interesting jobs with a variety of components.

So when you are evaluating or designing jobs, take a look at the number of outcomes you are expecting from people in your critical roles. If there are four to seven, you’re right in the sweet spot from a job design perspective.


Questions to ponder:


  • Do your top performers think their job scopes are about right? How do you know?




What Do You Do with Outcomes?—Coaching


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

In our previous blogs in this series, we’ve discussed what to do with outcomes. Namely,

  • Train people to produce them with the right skills and knowledge
  • Equip people to produce them by supplying the right tools, processes, and information
  • Hire people either experienced in producing those outcomes or with the perceived potential to do so

In this post, we’ll look at perhaps the most powerful use of outcomes—as a focal point for coaching people to improve their performance.

Any cursory search will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of coaching programs. Most share a few basic tenets:

  • Emphasize the positive
  • Build a relationship
  • Focus on specific areas of improvement

The emphasis of these well-intentioned programs is the same: learning how to coach. In other words, they provide techniques and approaches for coaching well.

But all of them share the same gap. None of them helps you know what to coach on: what the target performance and the specific underlying actions that need to be improved are.

That’s where the outcomes approach can complement any coaching program. Note that we say complement, not replace. Good coaching techniques and approaches are absolutely necessary. But so too are coaching targets.

Consider the four possible combinations of coaching techniques and targets:

  1. Poor techniques with no targets
  2. Good techniques with no targets
  3. Poor techniques with good targets
  4. Good techniques with good targets

Common sense says that number 4 will have the best impact on your organization.

Question to ponder:

  • Which of the four combinations typifies your organization?

What Do You Do with Outcomes?—Hiring

Outcomes hiring

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

In our previous blogs in this series, we’ve discussed what to do with outcomes. Namely,

  • Train people to produce them with the right skills and knowledge
  • Equip people to produce them by providing the right tools, processes, and information

In this post, we’ll address the question of how to use the outcomes determined in a TOPS analysis to hire the right people.

Hiring is one of the most challenging parts of any leader’s job. The process itself is both time consuming and expensive (many organizations use a rule of thumb that the cost of hiring one person is equal to that person’s annual salary). Even more expensive is the cost to the organization of hiring the wrong person.

When hiring people, determining whether you have the right person for the job at hand is generally very difficult. Some factors are reasonably straightforward to determine:

  • Is the person a good cultural fit for the organization?
  • Does the person have the requisite experience to make him or her eligible for the position?
  • Does the person seem to have the desire and motivation to succeed?

But those don’t address the question that should be central to the hiring process: is there any evidence the person will succeed in the proposed role?


In our opinion, that question is so often ignored because the role is rarely understood sufficiently to enable you to draw any conclusions. But the outcomes determined in a TOPS analysis change all that.

With the list of critical outcomes needed to succeed, you can now ask two critical questions:

  • Have you demonstrated an ability to produce each of these outcomes in a previous role?
  • If not, how would you approach producing each of these outcomes?

By having a specific set of outcomes as the basis for the interview, you can now evaluate the candidates on their previous experiences related to each outcome. When candidates have no such previous experience, then probing for how they would set about producing the outcomes allows you to evaluate their potential to succeed. Using the combination of those two critical questions changes the entire candidate selection process from one of hopeful trepidation to one of cautious confidence.


Question to ponder:

  • How confident are you that you are selecting the right people for your critical roles?




What Do You Do with Outcomes?—Equipping


In our last post, we discussed how to leverage outcomes as the focal point for designing and developing training programs. In this post, we will talk about another key way to use outcomes to drive both individual and organizational performance: equipping people to perform.

By equipping people, we mean providing them with the right tools, processes, and information they need to succeed. Many organizations claim their people are their most valuable asset. But there is often little evidence of this in the way they equip their people to do their jobs. In the leadership’s defense, deciding what tools to provide is a very difficult task. There is certainly no shortage of options from which to choose. Let’s look at the available technology choices as an example.

On one recent project, the front-line performers were required to use seventeen IT systems every day. Each of those systems had a different user interface and different controls. Almost half the training classes were directly related to learning how to use those various systems. Simply switching between the systems ate up a significant part of each person’s workday. But when we performed a TOPS analysis for that critical role, we found that the way top performers succeeded bore little resemblance to the design of the systems provided for them to use.

As a result of that TOPS analysis, the organization decided to replace most of those IT systems with a new system specifically designed to help consistently produce the outcomes that matter to success.

That’s the key factor to choosing and designing the right tools with which to equip people in critical roles: focus on the outcomes as identified by the TOPS analysis. In fact, for existing roles, top performers have often developed their own homegrown versions of the tools they need. The advantage of conducting observations as a central data gathering technique is you will see what tools, information, and job aids people use to produce the outcomes that matter.

On another project, eighteen of the top twenty performers in a critical role had each developed his or her own version of a particular tool. Of course, each variant was slightly different, but all performed the same basic functions. The rest of the performers, however, had not taken the time to develop such a tool. That tool, more fully developed and released officially, proved to be one of the key mechanisms that helped the rest of the population improve their performance.


Questions to ponder:

  • How well equipped to succeed are your people? Have you mapped the tools, information, and job aids to the list of outcomes needed for success?



What Do You Do with Outcomes?—Training

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

You’ve made the leap and mapped the outcomes for your critical roles. Now what? In this installment of our mini-series, we discuss the use of outcomes for designing and developing training programs.

Most corporate training programs focus on building large libraries of generic courses designed more for adult education than for improved performance. Those courses build general skills and knowledge and are not intended to help people perform better in their specific roles.

Outcome-based courses, on the other hand, are specifically designed to help someone produce each of the critical outcomes associated with his or her individual role. As an example, let’s say a key outcome for a project manager is to produce a project plan appropriate to manage the project. Applicable courses or modules might include the following:

  • fundamentals of successful project planning
  • how to write a project plan
  • how to implement a project plan

Of course, there may also be a series of courses that help with the foundational skills and knowledge elements behind each of those outcome-based courses. An example might be a technical writing course to help build writing skills. But the bulk of the focus and the real value is in the how-to courses that help people consistently produce the key outcomes to standard.

This may seem to be common sense but, as usual, common sense is anything but common. In one case, a large organization had over three thousand courses in their learning library, but not one of them focused on helping people produce the outcomes gleaned from their top performers. In other words, there was a key outcome that helped people be successful, but the organization did nothing to help people produce that outcome. Thankfully, once that gap was understood, the organization quickly moved to develop and launch courses focused how to consistently produce the key outcomes determined by the TOPS analysis.


Questions to ponder:

  • Are your training courses specific to the needs of your performers? Or are they too generic to make a difference?


So What Do You Do with Outcomes?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Over the last year, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing outcomes. We’ve talked about what they are, how to map them to a specific role, and what difference focusing on outcomes can make to an organization.

Let’s assume you’ve made the mental leap and are now on board with the value of mapping the outcomes for each critical role. Here’s the next key question: now that you have the list of outcomes, what do you do with them?

We tend to be very practical in our approaches. So at this point in our discussion of outcomes, we want to focus on some very practical applications.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll talk about several specific applications of outcomes:

  • designing, developing, and deploying training
  • equipping people to produce outcomes
  • hiring people most capable of producing outcomes
  • measuring how well the outcomes are produced
  • coaching people to produce outcomes

A significant body of literature is already available for each of these areas, and we will not be trying to duplicate any of that information. For example, an entire industry has been built around coaching, coaching techniques, and so forth. We will focus on how to integrate outcomes into a system of coaching and how doing so makes the coaching better and more effective.

If you have any specific questions or areas you’d like us to discuss as part of this series, please let us know. You can e-mail us at


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