The role of the leader in outcomes based planning

Outcomes based planning is at its core a discipline that depends on empowerment and devolved decision making. Despite this, great leadership is critical to the successful adoption of the framework.

As with any attempted transformation, the leadership team must provide the vision. They must articulate a strong reason for making the change. Ideally the team will have reached this decision following bi-directional conversations with some of the people they lead.

Outcome based planning kick off

To kick the process off, leaders should define success for the change. How you articulate the success will depend on the reasons for making the change. As an example, “everybody in the organisation knows how their work contributes to the strategy.’

Having a compelling reason and a well defined outcome can help with the next responsibility of the leader. Winning the hearts and minds of the organisation. This warrants an article in itself, but suffice to say that to make change work you need to win hearts and minds. This is made a lot easier if people understand and share the vision for change.

Having a clear definition of success also supports our next job for the leader. Continually driving home the need to focus on outcomes and not outputs.

Leading by example is critical. Move people from the mindset of describing what they’ve delivered, to one where they articulate their progress towards outcomes. The program of change represents a good opportunity to put a stake in the ground.

It could be argued that evidence based decision making is a related capability to outcomes based planning, but I believe it is core. This is an area where leaders must lead by example and emphasise its importance. Make decisions based on the evidence that teams provide, rather than hunches. In my experience, this is one of the toughest changes that leadership teams face.

Perfect is the enemy of good

Where evidence is missing from discussions, more subjective elements come into play. One of my least favourite is what I call charisma based prioritisation.

Or as Shreyas Doshi said:

Something I’ve observed over the years:

Product Managers who always win real-time debates about product issues — with their quips, eloquent arguments, bulletproof analogies & metaphors — tend to build surprisingly mediocre products, with mediocre outcomes.

The corollary to this is ensure you don’t withhold decisions until you have perfect information. You will never get it. This means that at times you will make the wrong decisions, but that’s inevitable. Accepting you can’t get everything right is an essential step in outcomes based planning

Psychological safety

Setting a context in which teams are prepared to take risks, experiment and learn from their mistakes is another fundamental requirement. Recently the term psychological safety has become more widely used to describe this state.

Amy Edmonson describes some research in her book The Fearless Organisation,

“A key insight from this work was that psychological safety is not a personality difference but rather a feature of the workplace that leaders can and must help create.”

OKRs are a great framework for outcomes based planning and here again the leaders have a critical role to play. The first piece of advice is to make use of the insight and intelligence of the people in the organisation. OKRs at all levels should be set in the context of a bi-directional conversation.

With this guidance in mind there are a few more operational matters to consider. Embrace the OKRs and talk about them often. Use them in town halls and updates. Make outcomes the lingua franca of executive conversation.

Teresa Torres powerfully advocates for teams sharing their thinking with stakeholders, not just their conclusions.

As a leader, encourage this behaviour by drilling down beyond the ‘what?’ to the ‘why?’.

Success with outcomes based planning is dependent on setting the right context. It isn’t about decision making, it’s about helping others to succeed.

There are also several enabling capabilities for success in outcomes based thinking. I will discuss these in a future article.