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 email@example.com.
One of the premises of the TOPS model is analyzing performance through the eyes of the top performers. The idea, of course, is to discern what sets those top performers apart from their average performing peers.
But what happens if there are no top performers to model? How does one determine outcomes if no one is producing those top outcomes to emulate?
When might such a scenario exist? One such situation might be a new role that isn’t yet being performed. Often when a company reorganizes, new roles are created. In those cases, there might, in fact, be a brand new role that has never been performed before.
Another similar situation is when roles have changed substantially due to a change in the mission of an organization. Or perhaps roles have been combined or split to create a set of new roles.
So how do we recommend handling these situations?
It’s exceedingly rare that no part of the role has ever existed. If roles have been combined or split, the best approach is to study the earlier versions of the roles. One significant advantage of mapping the outcomes of a role is that those individual outcomes can then be combined or recombined with others to form new roles. The outcomes haven’t changed. What has changed is which role will produce which outcome. So analyzing the performance of the top people from the previous incarnation is a good strategy.
If no such previous roles exist, then we work with the stakeholders and managers of the new roles to map an aspirational view of the role. In other words, how we think the role should be performed. Obviously, we won’t have the benefit of the wisdom of the top performers, but this method usually provides a reasonable first approximation of the outcomes and how they should be produced.
Taking that second approach demands a commitment from the stakeholders of the organization to accept an iterative solution. They will rely on the aspirational model for the first cut, but immediately look for top performers to emerge and then analyze what those performers have done to separate themselves from others. The leadership will then remap the role based on those lessons learned. A good frequency for this launch and reevaluation process is about six to twelve months. That usually provides sufficient time to identify differences in performance.
Questions to ponder:
- Do you have new roles in your organization? Or are those new roles simply new variations of previous roles?
All 128 Division I college football teams are just wrapping up spring training. The senior players are only memories. The incoming class hasn’t yet arrived. And hopes for a successful season are as plentiful as flower blossoms and tree buds.
This flow of players through college football teams is a microcosm of the flow of people and talent through corporations today. The promise of thirty-year employment has long vanished, and with the arrival of the millennial workforce, corporations are struggling with the reality of a “learn-and-leave” mindset. The importance of continuously recruiting new players for college football programs and modern corporations alike has become paramount.
The notion of recruiting has always fascinated us. The most common mantra heard in the hallways of companies today is “hire only the best.” At first blush, this seems to make perfect sense. The implication is that hiring only the best will result in top performance. How true is this assertion? As examining this premise across corporations proves difficult, let’s take a look through the world of college football.
The 2015 college football season ended with Alabama regaining its throne after a convincing victory over Clemson in the title game. Using the final season rankings as our measure of performance, let’s examine the performance ranking of all 128 Division I teams. What influence did recruiting have on this ultimate result?
Every year around this time, each college football program is ranked on the number and quality of its incoming recruits. We’ve compared these two sets of rankings in the chart below. The final standing is based on the 2015 win–loss records. The recruiting rankings are from 2013. We picked this year as the very best players in the college game only stay around for two of the four years they are eligible to play.
Last year’s recruiting headlines might read
Alabama #1 in Both Recruiting and Final Standings
As you can see, Alabama has a perfect correlation. The team was ranked number one in recruiting and number one in performance. This result, of course, gives credence to the adage, “hire only the best.”
But another significant headline regarding recruiting might read
Navy Finishes the Season at #17 despite Ranking 112th in Recruiting
Navy’s program provides a strong counterargument to the adage that recruiting is the number one priority. Not only does this ranking indicate that factors exist beyond recruiting, Navy’s particular story demonstrates that there are ways to succeed that do not rely on recruiting. When we look at the full spectrum of 128 schools, we can clearly see that while success can be positively impacted by recruiting, it is dependent on more than simply hiring the best.
Let’s look closer:
- Three top twenty-five schools had a strong correlation between their recruiting and their final rankings: Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame
- Of the top twenty-five recruiting schools, nine (or 36 percent) finished the season within +/- 10 percent of their recruiting ranking
- This breakdown holds for all 128 teams:
- 34 percent fell within the +/- correlated recruiting range
- 32 percent outperformed their recruiting expectations
- 34 percent underperformed their recruiting expectations
- Four schools in additional to Navy significantly outperformed their recruiting rankings
- Houston (7th in performance/76th in recruiting)
- Utah (18th in performance/67th in recruiting)
- Iowa (8th in performance/59th in recruiting)
- TCU (9th in performance/43rd in recruiting)
- Five schools had some clear issues and significantly underperformed their recruiting rankings
- Auburn (60th in performance/6th in recruiting)
- Texas A&M (45th in performance/5th in recruiting)
- Texas (74th in performance/16th in recruiting)
- South Carolina (95th in performance/19th in recruiting)
- Kentucky (83rd in performance/22nd in recruiting)
The story painted by this data indicates that while top talent is important, what happens to these potentially high performers when they arrive is equally important: How strong is the program they enter? Does it continue to develop top performers? Is leadership aligned around a clear strategy?
Questions to ponder:
- How would you rate your recruiting program?
- What does your development program look like for your critical roles?
- Are your leaders aligned around your strategy?
That’s a great question and, as usual, the answer is—it depends.
We consider a few factors when recommending how many people should be on the interview list:
- Contact time. We usually target forty contact hours with top performers. This ideal target has proven valid across many types of roles and industries. We define an hour of contact time as one hour spent with one performer. So interviewing one person for two hours or two people for one hour will each result in two contact hours.
- Population size. The number of performers in the role obviously plays a big part in deciding how many people should be on the interview list. We usually try to reach at least 5–10 percent of the performer population. This number is obviously pretty flexible. If there are two thousand performers, it’s not realistic to interview two hundred of them. Nor is it necessary. On the other side of the scale, if just twenty people are in a critical role, then interviewing only one or two might not be sufficient.
- Population variations. Each population usually has some significant variations such as geography, organization, or even culture. Each of the identified variations should be represented.
- Number of top performers. Of course, this is the most important factor. If there’s only one top performer and that person represents the model others should be following, then it’s quite reasonable to develop the performance map based on that one person.
Using the above factors on a recent project, we developed what we thought was a reasonable interview list. It included samples of different organizational components and the different geographies involved. But after reviewing the list, the business leader greatly increased it. He was looking past the actual data collection and considering the implementation of the project. He knew that gaining the buy-in of critical stakeholders across the organization would require including some of their performers on the interview list. While that increased the short-term costs of the project, it also shortened the time needed to roll out the process and achieve the desired business results. A very wise business leader indeed!
Questions to ponder:
- What are the population characteristics for your critical roles? How many people would need to be included to get a solid representation of top performance across the roles?
One common challenge we face is from organizations that want to include average performers on the list of those to be interviewed for a TOPS project. The reasoning is usually something along the lines of wanting to more fully understand the differences between top and average performance. While that is a laudable aim, in reality it doesn’t really help the overall goal of wanting to improve individual performance to deliver better business results. Here’s the logic: The purpose of the project is to establish a model of excellent performance that all performers can seek to emulate. The better the model, the higher the probability of having a significant impact. But if the model is watered down in any way, then the results will be too.
There is an old saying: “If you study bad performance and try to avoid it, the best you can achieve is not bad.” But not bad is not what we want—we want, and businesses need, great results. The best way to achieve great results is to start by studying those who produce great results.
Think about a map. Would you rather have a detailed map of where you want to go or a more general map of a lot of places that you would rather not go? Of course the answer is obvious. We need to know as much as possible about where we want to go.
The same is true of mapping performance. We need to understand as much as possible about what top performance looks like so we will know how to achieve it and, maybe more importantly, we will know when we get there. By giving performers a detailed map of what great looks like, they are more likely to deliver those results.
Questions to ponder:
- Are you establishing targets that will deliver great instead of average results? How can you be sure?
You probably don’t remember Pierre-Simon LaPlace. LaPlace was a French scholar in the 1700s whose work in mathematics, astronomy, and physics was foundational. But our focus isn’t really LaPlace, it’s his mother, Marie-Anne Sochon.
Often when a student comes home from school, the parent’s typical question is “What did you learn in school today?” But the story is told that each day when LaPlace came home from school, his mother asked a different question: “What good question did you ask in school today?”
That’s the essence of interviewing—asking good questions.
Good questions do not happen naturally. Like LaPlace, we must intentionally develop the skill over time.
Since interviewing is such a critical aspect of the TOPS approach to driving impact, this post will be the first in an occasional series on interviewing. Future posts will cover subjects such as techniques, sample questions, and tips.
Here’s the first topic: discovery interviews are not like hiring interviews.
In hiring interviews, the object is to judge the suitability of the person for the job. Is he the best person? How well will he handle stress? Does he have the needed experience? Can he avoid common traps and handle the tough questions?
But discovery interviews with top performers are very different. The performers in question already have the job. In fact, they are excelling at the job. The intent of the discussion in this case is to figure out what they’re doing that makes them so good. You’re not trying to catch them up; you’re trying to understand them. That means going into the interview with an open, inquisitive attitude. No judging, no gotcha questions, no canned situational tests. Instead, you have to go into the interview with the attitude that this person is the top performer in her role, she knows something you don’t, and your job is to learn from her. If you go into the interview with that attitude, then it will come across and the interviewee will be much more open to honestly answering your questions and volunteering the information you need.
A top performer interview is different and should be approached accordingly.
Question to consider:
- What are some of your interview tips for discovering best practices?