Managing For Results

John McNeil




The single, most effective motivator of individuals in organizations is clear objectives. This fact has been known since Roman times, but it continues to be overlooked throughout the history of man. If people know what is expected of them, they will attempt to do a good job at delivering those results, if for no other reason than they don’t want to be thought of badly. But they have to know what is expected of them.


A performance objective is a goal, objective, or result you want to achieve either for or from yourself or for your business from someone else. Performance objectives are absolutely essential for business success.


Poor communication is consistently listed as one of the top three problems in organizations. Yet in most cases, poor communication is nothing but a lack of clear objectives. Regardless of who they are or where they work, people want to know the answer to two questions and they want it straight from their immediate boss:


  • What are my performance objectives? (What do you want from me?)
  • How well am I doing? (Give me feedback.)




Motivate means to provide motive, which is defined as “the goal or objective of one’s actions.” This is what drives performance. Goals are the single most effective motivator. By putting the end state conditions or the results you want on the front end of your effort, you have a much better chance of getting what you want.


Goals are powerful because they allow you to shape your destiny. The future isn’t some monolithic entity marching inexorably towards you; you can decide what you want for yourself and your organization and bring it into being. But you can only do that if you say now what you want to have then.


In addition, a process that takes place inside each and every individual also makes goals very effective. People experience this process every day, but they rarely pay any attention to it. Metaphorically speaking, it’s like electricity. We use electricity every day but we don’t really understand it. Even the world’s top physicists don’t entirely understand what it is and how it works. But that doesn’t stop us from using it every day. The process of why goals work is a lot like electricity. We can’t understand it completely, but we can describe it sufficiently so that people can use it every day.


The starting point is the mind, the part of the process we know the least about. We don’t know what the mind is or where it resides. We talk about it as if we do, but the fact is we don’t. We never have and philosophers and theologians tell us we never will.

We do know where the brain is and we know quite a bit about it. The connection between the brain and our nervous system is an exceedingly complicated servo-mechanism — a mechanism, placed in the service of something that accomplishes that something. It has electronic, chemical, and mechanical parts that are light-years ahead of the most advanced human technology. But like any servo­mechanism, it will achieve what is placed before it.


This system uses a mental picture (imagining) as its point of departure. We establish a picture that we want to achieve and the servo-mechanism achieves. This process goes on constantly. It is unbelievably sophisticated and powerful. The performance you get from individuals and from your organization is determined by the extent to which you influence or manage the process.


As individuals and organizations, we decide what we can and cannot do by creating pictures of what we can and cannot do. Change the picture and we change the capabilities. It can be a gradual change or it can be transformational. This process happens each and every day in your organization with every person that works for you. By influencing and managing the process, you can change what they focus on and how well they do it.


The pictures come from many different places. The right brain provides input from the universe –sensory data about what we see, hear, etc. We get a lot from our memories and socialization. We also get pictures from our innate needs as human beings. Unlike animals, humans are not satisfied with just surviving in the environment. We have a need for development. We play it out in our lives all the time. This need impacts how and what we set as the pictures in our minds.


With all these things bombarding our consciousness, it can be difficult to get a clear picture. The truth is that most people don’t hold a clear picture for any length of time. CEOs, given theft positions and level of success, do it much more often than the norm. The norm is a very scattered state of consciousness.


Our brains are so powerful that we have excess capacity. When we aren’t using that fill capacity, we go on “automatic pilot.” For example, driving a car doesn’t engage our full capacities. We can drive to work while thinking about a hundred other things. Unless we are consciously focusing on a given thought, our minds will jump from one thing to another as a result of the automatic pilot process.


Any lime you aren’t consciously directing your thinking process, the automatic pilot takes over. It will never fight you for control, but it is always there. Any time you specifically want to think about something, it never resists. You can think about anything you choose to at any time. But the minute you let go of conscious control, the automatic pilot takes over. That is normal awareness as opposed to focusing attention.


But when you focus in on one conscious train of thought, you not only do your best thinking, you create a very powerful, clear, sharp image. When the image is very clear, the servo-mechanism kicks in and starts working to make that image happen. If you can focus attention, you dramatically increase the probability that your picture will become a reality.

People don’t like to be managed. They don’t mind being led or supported, but they don’t like to be controlled. However, if you’re going to get the servo-mechanism process working, you have to exert something. So manage the process, not the people. When you manage the process, you help your people sharpen the picture you want them to have. Then they put their own machinery into gear and go get it done. That leaves them in control. The key is to manage the process so that the pictures you want are in their minds.


People’s choice of goals is preceded by their purpose in life, which is preceded by the choice of personal values. Most people don’t consciously review this process, but we all act it out nonetheless. If all you do, particularly with your key people, is work with them on theft personal and professional goals, you influence this process. This is where you enter the process, by assisting people to clarify their goals.




The factors that lead to job satisfaction and motivation are separate and distinct from those that lead to job dissatisfaction. These two feelings are not opposites of each other. The opposite ofjob satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction, but rather no job satisfaction. The opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, rather it is no job dissatisfaction.


Motivators are also different from job satisfiers. High job satisfiers (also called hygiene items) are important but they don’t motivate people. You must have both but you must also recognize that they are separate and distinct. Don’t try to use one to accomplish the other.


Examples of job satisfiers include:


  • Company policies and administration
  • Relationship with supervisor
  • Work conditions
  • Salary


Motivating factors are:


  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • The work itself


People expect you to provide the job satisfiers. But they don’t motivate people; they just keep them from being dissatisfied. Job satisfiers just get you in the game. A lot of change programs don’t work in organizations because they change the job satisfiers and not the things that really motivate people.


Motivators are entirely different. If you don’t take care of these items, people aren’t dissatisfied, but they won’t be motivated to give you their very best.




If you are going to manage by results and you accept that clarifying the picture is essential to getting your results, then you need tools to help you clarify the pictures for your people.


One of the best tools is to use SMART performance objectives. SMART stands for:


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Trackable


Many managers confuse job descriptions with performance objectives but they are not the same. For most organizations, job descriptions are a big administrative drill and nobody really likes them. But they can become a very useful tool if done properly.

If you’re going to use job descriptions, keep two key points in mind:


Write them as results not as a description of activities. An activity is the behavior the person engages in to get the job done. Results are the outcomes of those activities.


  • Have the person doing the job write the description, not you. Ask the person these questions:

When you are finished with what you do, what is the end result? Why do you do it? What makes it a success or failure?


For example, an activity job description for a receptionist would be to answer the phone. A results job description would be to create satisfied incoming callers. You can combine the two as long as you use the phrase “so that.” In other words, the receptionist’s job is to answer the phone so that we create satisfied incoming callers.


There are two broad categories of results-oriented things you want people to do: routine and special. Routine things are job descriptions and special things are performance objectives. People will have a few special performance objectives for every rated period. If you don’t pay attention to the routine, two things happen: people stop paying attention to it and they resent it.


Always state your objectives in the positive, not the negative. Negative goals don’t work because the mind doesn’t do a good job of filtering out the “don’t” part of the message. The servo-mechanism strives to get done whatever the picture is, and if the picture is a “don’t,” the servo-mechanism misses the “don’t”. Instead of telling people what not to do, tell them what you want done.


For example, assume your goal is to have less scrap. The wrong way to frame the goal would be to say, “We want to reduce scrap by 10%.” That is a negative goal. It sets up the picture of producing scrap. Instead, say, “We want 92% perfect product.” That sets up the picture to focus on producing perfect product, not scrap.




The real value of results management is that it can be used at the individual, team, group, and organizational level. To use it with your management team requires a fairly lengthy process but the results more than outweigh the investment of time and resources.


To set organizational goals at the management team level, have a goal-setting meeting where all your management team sits down and talks through what their objectives are going to be. (They prepare theft objectives before coming to the meeting.) There are many benefits to doing it in a group:


  • People learn from each other, especially if it is a new process for them.
  • People learn what everyone else is doing. If some objectives are going to conflict, this is the best time to discover it.
  • It puts people under real pressure to get it done. Nobody wants to come to a session of their peers totally unprepared.


After reviewing the performance objectives, set a date to meet again and review the goals after everyone has had a chance to rework them given the information they learned at the meeting.


When an individual sets performance objectives, have them draw the objectives from two areas:


  • They must support the next higher organizational element of which they are a part.
  • They must support their own individual development.


Most people overlook their own personal development because there is always so much else to be done. Plus, they may not be sure of what they need to develop and where to get the resources to do it. But organizations that pay attention to this area are more effective in the short and long run. Make personal development a non-negotiable part of the process. Have people talk to their boss, peers, and subordinates to find out what area(s) of their professional competencies most needs development so they can set objectives to work on them.


A team is a group of people with common goals. A team has performance objectives in common; a group doesn’t. When teams are having problems, more often than not the cause is a lack of clear goals and common objectives. If you get clarity on the purpose and goals, most of the other issues fall into place.


As a manager or facilitator of a team, the single most important thing you can do is to make sure the results to be produced by the team are clear. If this takes extra time, do it anyway, because if you don’t get the clarity up front, you guarantee problems later on.


Any kind of program, initiative, or activity you attempt will be enhanced if you start with the results you are after. TQM, self-directed work teams, continuous process improvement, reengineering: these fail time and time again because they focus on activities, not results. If you want to succeed, define at the front end what you want and make your process intervention support that result.




To get the picture you want in people’s minds clearly in place, so that all the technology people carry around can be put in the service of the company, requires some suppositions:


  • You have willing players.
  • The players know what their department or company is trying to achieve so they know what they are supposed to contribute.
  • For that to happen, there must be some planning. Then there must be linkage between the plan and what people do on a day-to-day basis.


Here’s how to make that process work:


Set up an off-site planning conference with your management team. Give everyone on the team a homework assignment in one of four areas:


  • Customer assessment
  • Vendor assessment
  • Environmental scan
  • Organizational assessment


Ideally, these should be done by people in the organization as part of an ongoing management process.

The only exception is the organizational assessment, which should be done by an objective third party.

But, if this is your first lime doing this process, you will need to assign these areas to specific people being very specific about what they need to get done and by when.


The surveys should be accompanied by small group and individual assessment interviews. The surveys tell you generally what the issue is; the assessment interviews tell you specifically what it is.


Before you go off-site, collect the data and give a synthesized version of all four of these databases to all the players on the planning team. In addition, each player brings data gathered from their own departments.


When this has been accomplished, hold the off-site meeting with the purpose of achieving clarity in these six areas:


  1. Core organizational values: These involve how the owners want to run the company, how the company will be structured, how people will be paid, and what areas are non-negotiable. The company will be run based upon these clear, well-defined organizational values.
  2. The company purpose: There is a difference between purpose and mission. Purpose is ongoing; it is your reason for being. Missions are huge, focusing goals. A purpose statement is not intended to be a wonderful-sounding, fuzzy statement. Instead, it should be a very effective, clear management tool. It should be the north star of the business. If any business decision doesn’t support the purpose, don’t do it.


Purpose answers four questions:


  • What products or services do we now provide and what products or services will we provide in the foreseeable future?
  • What is the profile of the customer base that we seek to serve now and in the foreseeable future?
  • How do we define our markets now and in the foreseeable future?
  • What makes us unique in the marketplace now and in the foreseeable future?


These questions will lead to some very spirited discussions. Even if you have general agreement about what you do now, there is usually less agreement about what you should be doing in the near future. This is the also the most important part of the planning process. If you don’t have agreement on these basic things, you can’t move forward.


  1. The vision statement: Vision is powerful for an organization for the same reason a picture is powerful for the individual. All meaning is derived from relationship; there is no isolated point of meaning. When people see the vision, they see the relationship between what you are doing and what it means to them. At that point, they either choose to buy in or check out.


  1. Strategies: Strategies answer the question of how you are going to get to the long-term position outlined in the vision. Once you set the strategies, everybody has to operate in concert with them.


  1. Goals: Goals are long-term — anything over a year. Goals are bigger than objectives and take more time.


  1. Objectives: These are the short-term results you want to achieve within the next operating year.


Once you have laid out the organization’s long-term goals and what it wants to get done in the next year, turn it over to the people at the conference, tell them to replicate it in their departments, and have them figure out how they are going to support the company. Agree on a date by which they will get it done within their departments and report back to the team.


This process needs to be done at every level of the organization — all the way down to teams. Teams need to know the same things and answer the same questions as the organization as a whole: Who are their customers? What products or services do they provide? What is their market? What makes them unique?


If you haven’t budgeted time in this process for operating values, they generally get left out. This is a mistake. Operating values are very powerful in driving, shaping, and focusing a company.


When laying out operating values, put some statement of ethical behavior first. Otherwise you leave yourself open to a legal challenge at some point downstream. Values are in priority; one will displace another in the push and shove of day-to-day business. If you haven’t told your organization to be ethical and legal first and if they do something that gets you in trouble, they will come back and say you told them other things were more important.


For that reason, recognize that your values are going to be in priority order. Talk them through and make sure the priority order reflects what you really want to see in the company. Always include behaviors as examples of values. They have to be further clarified in every department. Ethical behavior looks different, for example, in the sales department than it does in the engineering department.


There is no shortcut to understanding values in an organization. You must sit down and talk with people about them and it has to be done at the operating unit level. Teams and departments have to sit down together and ask, “What does it mean to us?” If you do, it will become a very powerful ally in achieving organizational results.


Always focus people in terms of end results — what you want as a result of any particular value in action. For example, under ethical behavior you might say, “We want actions that result in feeling good about ourselves and our company.”




At this point, McNeil refers to a page in the handouts that is not only good for setting performance objectives, it also is an ideal tool for tracking agreements during meetings. The page has three columns that must be filled out:


  • What will be done
  • Who is responsible
  • When it will get done


First and foremost, this process dramatically improves accountability. Once agreements are written down, there can be no misunderstanding or disagreement about who agreed to do what during the meeting. Second, putting the goals on paper makes them more real, more tangible.


There can be more than one person in the who column, but NEVER let more than one person be ultimately responsible for accomplishing the task. Designate one person as the leader. Call them anything you want: chief, leader, kahuna, or whatever. But one person must be responsible for making sure everyone else involved gets their part of the task done.


This also allows you to get around the “I’ll try” excuses that are so common. Senior managers can say “I’ll try” in some very sophisticated ways. When someone says, “I’ll fry,” they are really saying “I’m not sure I’m going to deliver this.” They are giving themselves and you an excuse. You need to put a stop to that right from the start.


Accomplishment is a function of willingness and ability. When somebody says, “I’ll try,” it means they are either not willing or not able. People set out to either do things or not do them. If they are setting out to not do them, that’s okay as long as you know it. Then you can talk to them some more and find out what support they need to become willing.


Once you get agreement on who and what, you may have to negotiate on when. Once you get a date everybody can live with, it should be set in stone.




When new hires first come in, they are more receptive and willing to contribute than they will ever be. This is your biggest opportunity to take advantage of both their newness and theft eagerness to contribute. Unfortunately, most companies do a poor job of bringing in new hires.


Usually, the people that show new hires around are the worst employees. Your best people are loaded up with other work, so you dump the new hires off on your worst people who tend to have the worst attitudes. Why risk getting new people off on the wrong foot? Instead, orient your new people with the best people you can afford. You are shaping them for a long period of time, so you might as well shape them with the best.


Start new hires out with a set of performance objectives, such as reading and understanding all the employee policies, handbooks, etc., and attending all the right meetings. For the first 3 0-45 days, have them look around the company and report back to you on what they see as the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Give them carte blanche to make any recommendations. Their minds are fresh. They don’t know how “it has always been done” in your company. The best thing they have to offer when they are new is that fresh perspective.


In the first 90 days, have new hires put together a list of the results they are going to be producing once they are up to speed. Ask them to list what contributions they will make that warrant the salary you are paying them. Let them struggle with it. If they turn in a list of general, useless answers, coach them to improve.


Give them credit for going in the right direction but explain that they need to sharpen the focus and get it more results oriented. Look at their list of activities, select one and ask them to define the result for that activity. Then ask how that result is going to benefit the company.


Once the person understands the need to get more focused, give them a week or two to rework their list. When they come back, have another coaching session to do the same thing. Keep this process up until they have gotten down to the nitty-gritty specific results that you expect from their position. This process will either bring the person up to speed in your organization or let you know that they aren’t right for the position.


The key is not to do the work for the person. Coach them on how to do it but don’t do the work for them; that defeats the purpose of the whole process.




TEC – Managing For Results – John McNeil