Using Outcomes to Build a Remote-First Company

July 21, 2020 Written by Amanda Poole

When we founded MetaCX in 2018, there was no question that we’d build a remote team and culture from day one. We knew we wanted access to elite talent regardless of their geography, increased employee wellness, and reduced overhead costs so we could have the freedom to invest in areas that would move our company and mission forward. 

As of today, we have 37 employees in eight states all working 100% remotely. Pre-COVID, we had offices in Indianapolis and San Francisco for employees who happen to work better in an office environment, but there was no obligation to go in. Post-COVID, we plan to open offices in any city in which we have a congregation of team members as an option for those employees. Humbly, we are confident that our team is more successful and produces more output when compared to teams of similar sizes. But what we value more than the volume of work is the ingenuity, productivity, and satisfaction our team enjoys from being able to work from where they want. 

I could write about our employee tech stipends, meeting cadences, Slack channels, Zoom happy hours, systems for recognition, and any of the other strategies and tools we’ve used to achieve a happy, productive, and inclusive remote work culture. But the reality is that the greatest contributing factor to our success is our almost religious belief in successful relationships being founded on agreed-upon outcomes rather than expectations for how, when, and where the work gets done.

How We Do It at MetaCX

We use outcomes for all of our strategic planning and tracking of performance, but the relationship that has the greatest impact on the success of remote work is the one between front-line managers and their team members. I’ve heard a version of the question “How are you getting managers comfortable with remote work?” regularly from HR leaders since the rapid shift to remote work many of us have experienced during this pandemic. Typical suggestions entail policies that can be implemented to give managers peace of mind that their employees are putting in 8+ hours of work per day rather than actually defining what outcomes need to be achieved and measuring employee work against those outcomes. A green bubble on Slack between the hours of 8-5 is a poor indicator of productivity, output, or anything at all other than the ability to move a mouse every 10 minutes. 

Instead of judging employee contributions based on whether employees are sitting in front of their computers in their home offices, managers should cultivate alignment with their team to accomplish the outcomes necessary for success. This is a mutually beneficial exercise. Managers are assured that their team members are aligned with the work that needs to be done, and employees feel secure with a true understanding of expectations. 

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We apply the outcomes method in macro and micro-interactions. At a macro level, we use our own product to conduct our team’s performance reviews. Of course, our product is designed for managing customer relationships, but this modest adaptation in intended use is a great way to be sure that everyone in the company has hands-on experience with MetaCX. Each manager and employee take time to review what was achieved in the previous quarter and expectations for the next. This creates alignment between our managers and employees the same way our customers and their customers create alignment on their goals. Of course, individual assignments and projects may not require the formal documentation of an outcome statement, but since it’s in our DNA to use outcomes to understand our work, it is embedded in our language and culture even when assigning smaller tasks and assignments. 

Before we dive into our method for crafting outcomes, it’s important to acknowledge that what I’m describing isn’t exactly new. The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) management framework, which was invented by Intel’s Andy Grove and popularized by Google, has gained traction with organizations of all sizes as a way to align individuals and teams to the strategic priorities of the business. While we haven’t adopted OKRs in the traditional sense, there’s a close enough alignment to what I’m describing here to easily substitute in OKRs if you prefer. 

I should also point out that, while we’ve chosen to use the MetaCX platform for managing employee outcomes, that’s not its first application. It is designed for managing supplier/buyer relationships from the perspective of—you guessed it—outcomes. (Needless to say, we also use our platform for that purpose; you can read more about MoM  (MetaCX on MetaCX) here.

How to Craft Effective Outcomes for Employees

A very basic method we prescribe to our customers for defining outcomes is creating outcomes statements, my colleague Kolby Tallentire wrote in detail about it here. The condensed version is asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What will change? Describe the business impact you wish this employee to achieve.
  2. By how much? What can we measure to know if success was achieved?
  3. By when? Specify the timeframe within which you expect the change to occur after the assignment. 

And then organize those answers into an outcome statement:

[directional change] [object of impact] by [degree of change] by [timeline]

An example of this straightforward outcome statement in action is an outcome we recently tasked our sales team with:

[Increase] [outbound demos] by [5 per week]

As your team gets more and more comfortable with the outcome method, you’ll find your outcome statements may not follow that explicit formula, but will be measurable, clear agreements. Here’s an example pulled from one of our engineer’s performance review:

Choose two features or views that are challenging to understand from a code standpoint and organize a team demo or lunch and learn. Identify and discuss the complexities in the code, ways to improve it, and if possible why the code got to this point was it incremental decisions, delivery speed over quality, etc.

And here’s an example from my own success plan:

Design and implement a remote onboarding process for new employees that enhances the employee experience, reduces ramp-up time, and complies with all legal and compliance requirements by the end of Q2. 

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of outcomes our employees are currently working towards, all of which align and contribute to our company’s “Meta Plan,” which is our strategic charter. Defining these outcomes is only the first step in cultivating a healthy remote culture. The next step is defining the milestones and metrics that can be tracked along the way to know that progress is being made toward those outcomes. Take for instance the outcome we tasked our sales team with:

[Increase] [outbound demos] by [5 per week]

Naturally, outbound demos come from prospecting, so a milestone associated with that outcome could be the number of calls and emails each salesperson makes to our prospects. Therefore, the milestone is: 

Make 25 outbound calls per day

We can then instrument our platform to ingest data from our CRM to measure the milestone as being achieved or not achieved, and coach our team accordingly. 

Embrace outcomes rather than expectations and watch your remote culture transform. Your organization will benefit from greater velocity due to focus on what matters, employees will feel more connected to their role in achieving the strategic mission of your company, and managers will be empowered to coach a productive team without micromanagement. 

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