Executive buy-in and incremental steps can help transform even the most rigid, task-oriented businesses into agile, results-oriented competitors.
Amazon is obsessed with customers. Facebook moves fast. Successful companies' cultures are the stuff of legends, and rightly so: as the management consultant famously put it, culture eats strategy for breakfast.
The chief goal of culture, regardless of industry or scale, is to inspire the behaviors the business needs to win. Increasingly, success demands that companies focus on outcomes over tasks—shifting the emphasis from doing the work to the outcomes that the work will deliver. Building a results-oriented culture is a significant project, but executive buy-in and incremental steps can help transform even the most rigid, task-oriented businesses into agile, results-oriented competitors.
What is a results-oriented culture?
In a results-oriented culture, work is organized and evaluated by the results it drives. Contrast this with more task-oriented environments where workers are assigned specific tasks and evaluated on their throughput. On a manufacturing line or in a fulfillment warehouse, for instance, the value added by each employee is proportional to the number of tasks they complete. In these settings, a steady rhythm of tasks assigned and completed may be the best way to serve the interests of the business.
In the modern knowledge economy, however, success and failure are determined by an organization’s ability to innovate. Success in this environment rests on the organization’s ability to recruit and retain highly-skilled workers, and to align their individual creativity and insight in pursuit of common goals. Here, the steady stream of work expected in a task-oriented culture may distract (if not actively detract) from employees reaching their full potential. Shifting focus from work to results, setting clear strategic goals, and supporting individual autonomy—the bread and butter of a results-oriented culture—will help organizations get the most value from their employees.
Consider a content-marketing team. In a task-oriented culture, individual team members might be assigned social media posts or blog articles and evaluated on their contributions—in other words, on the volume of work they do. A results-oriented culture might evaluate the same team on the number of hits it receives or the search rankings it's able to win, but leave it to the team to determine how the goal should be achieved.
The benefits of results-oriented culture
There are clear benefits to shifting an organization's focus from day-to-day activities to the results they drive.
Employees are more engaged. Increasing personal freedom and responsibility yield increased engagement, with a multitude of benefits for the business.
Work is future-focused. Tasking individual employees with delivering an objective encourages forward thinking and a growth mindset. Employees with clear objectives are incentivized to work efficiently in achieving them, operationalizing and optimizing their work as they go.
The talent takes notice. According to Gallup, 60% of millennials say opportunities to grow are important considerations when applying for a job. As the workforce shifts, results-oriented cultures are becoming a significant advantage—if not outright requirement—in attracting and retaining top talent.
Less supervision required. Empowering employees to determine “how” an objective should be delivered reduces management overhead and increases the time available for feedback, coaching, and strategic thinking about “what” the team needs to be working towards.
While entrusting results to personal talents and responsibility may feel initially chaotic—particularly for employees used to more rigid, command-and-control organizational structures—the initiative and agility embedded in results-oriented cultures unlock significant responsiveness. In the hyper-competitive reality of knowledge work, success depends more than ever on an organization's ability "learn and turn." Engaged, empowered employees are the building blocks.
Characteristics of results-oriented cultures
Results-oriented cultures are by nature adapted to the organizations around them. Still, certain themes pop up in nearly every OBC.
Focus on customer value. Since outcomes begin and end with their customers, OBCs keep them central in everything they do.
Transparent, current strategic objectives. Setting clear objectives is a crucial step towards building alignment across teams and functions. Keeping them transparent and up to date helps highlight status and importance.
Clear expectations. OBCs typically balance objectives with basic expectations around quality, workflows, and behavior, to ensure that they’re met in a way that upholds long-term business goals.
Individual and business-unit autonomy. With clear goals and expectations, OBCs allow (and frequently encourage) considerable autonomy among employees, teams, and lines of business.
While these characteristics are strong indicators that a results-oriented culture exists, they aren’t yet a roadmap to creating it.
Building a results-oriented culture
An organization's journey towards a more results-oriented culture starts with identifying the outcomes it needs to achieve. This conversation typically begins with the organization's mission—the de-facto answer to the question, "what is our organization here to achieve?"—and the strategic plans meant to advance it. Identifying organizational outcomes like "hitting our quarterly revenue targets" and "increasing employee engagement" isn't enough, however. While high-level goals are good places to start, building a culture requires identifying objectives that teams of people can directly own and influence. These should be both specific and achievable: a team that doesn't know what's expected of it (or doesn't believe the expectation is reasonable) is unlikely to deliver the intended result.
Whatever the framework and methodology, however, the challenge immediately shifts to building alignment and understanding across the organization. Turning strategy into action often begins with senior leadership and a small team of engaged champions, but successful execution requires buy-in at every level.
Particularly in organizations where task-oriented, siloed management structures aren't used to individual autonomy, leaders and managers will need to invest considerable time in setting both outcomes and expectations. This includes:
Scheduling and establishing the rhythm of the goal-setting process
Modeling results-oriented behaviors
Helping subordinates set credible, appropriately-resourced goals
Encouraging transparency and accountability
Aligning values, recognition, and performance evaluations with intended outcomes
Reinforcing the culture
Even organizations that have experienced some success in introducing a results-oriented approach must still actively support its place inside their culture. This typically comes down to habit. Once employees and teams are organized work around specific, measurable outcomes, delivering them still requires a steady drumbeat of measurement, course-correction, and on-the-fly adjustments.
For many results-oriented cultures this process begins in a spreadsheet. There are columns for the outcomes to drive, the teams involved, the individuals accountable, and the progress towards them. Each week, a process-owner—frequently the COO or Chief of Staff—prepares for the weekly staff meeting by emailing around for updates to every row.
Needless to say, this process doesn’t scale well. For growing companies, a dedicated OKR tool like Koan can support a results-oriented culture by automating the process of setting, measuring, and tuning the company’s goals.
What happens next?
Amazing culture doesn't create itself. It's established by leaders modeling intentional behaviors, reinforced through norms and hiring processes, and present in every aspect of employees' day-to-day work. Shifting towards an results-oriented culture is a significant undertaking, but the payoff is huge: companies that engage their employees’ creativity and insight gain a crucial edge in the modern economy. There’s no time like now to start.