Winning the Talent War #4: Start Managing Results Instead of Time

The people who can get more work done faster—and better—than the rest are valuable enough to command their own terms.

What’s more important to you as an employer—as a leader, manager, supervisor of employees—the amount of time your employees put in or the results they achieve? Results win, hands down. Right?

One time, I was training a group of district managers of a mid-sized coffee company and one of the DMs took me aside and told me this story:

Her team of seven sales representatives was the highest-performing team in the whole company. She told me that was really due to the work of three superstars on the team. In each case, these superstars had taken over a sales territory and doubled or tripled the numbers in a matter of months. One guy in particular had increased the orders of existing customers by 40 percent, while at the same time nearly doubling the number of customers in his territory. The other two were nearly as successful. As the district manager whispered this story to me, she leaned closer and said, “To my mind, these guys could do whatever they wanted, as long as they kept hitting numbers like that.” But not everybody in the company felt the same way.

These sales reps carry with them handheld computers on which their customers’ orders are recorded and signed for. The customer orders are marked with a particular date and time. At the end of each day (or every two or three days), the sales reps send the information from the handheld computer to the company headquarters.

Whoever was keeping track of the sales reports at the corporate headquarters began to notice a pattern. The superstar sales reps in this particular district almost never recorded orders after 3 p.m. In fact, there were plenty of days on which their last orders were recorded before 2 p.m. But the standard hours for the sales reps were supposed to be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. minimum. Obviously, three of the sales reps in this particular district were working half days, just about. “We can’t allow this,” somebody at corporate headquarters must have thought.

Well, this district manager told me, she caught lots of flak from her boss: “Why should these guys only be working until 2 or 3 p.m., when everybody else is working until 5 p.m. minimum?”

What do you think she said? “These guys are selling twice as much as any other sales reps in the company. They are amazing. Any one of these guys could sell anything to anybody. Every one of them has more than doubled the sales in his territory.”

What do you think her boss said? “But if they can sell that much by 2 or 3 p.m., just think how much they could sell in an additional 10 or 15 hours a week.”

That’s “opportunity cost” thinking. Not crazy. Especially if you are talking about a machine. But these guys are people. Super-valuable people. People who can sell anything to anybody. And they know it.

So, this district manager tells me, she went back to her superstars and broke the news: “You guys can’t keep knocking off at 2 or 3 p.m. I’m getting a lot of heat. You know how I feel about it, but there’s nothing I can do.” And so on.

What do you think these guys said? “Yeah, right. Whatever. We can sell anything to anybody. If the company isn’t willing to let us get the results our way, we’ll go sell for some other company.”

But what about opportunity cost? You see, in a case like this, there is no opportunity cost because the talent isn’t willing to work the extra 10 or 15 hours, certainly not at the same level of performance. “The whole reason I work so hard and sell so much so fast is to buy myself time,” one of the guys explained. “I figure if I’m that good, I can work wherever I want whenever I want. If you just want me to put in my time, what incentive do I have to hit the ball out of the park? I want to hit the home run and go home.”

Now put yourself in the shoes of this district manager. She is telling her star sales reps that they have to put in more time. They are telling her, “OK, then we quit.” Or at the very least, “If you just want us to put in our time, we are going to downshift our performance considerably.”

Here’s what she did, she told me, in a very low whisper: She told these guys to start recording dummy orders at 3:45, 4:15, 4:50, 5:05 p.m., and so on, before they sent in their sales records. And then every couple of weeks, she told them, they could go back and void out the transactions, along with the other orders that were canceled.

“Is that fraud?” I asked her. “I don’t know what it is,” she said, “But I couldn’t afford to lose these guys, and I thought any shareholder with half a brain would agree with me. These guys are so good, they most definitely should not be treated like everybody else. They should be rewarded for their performance. The reward they choose is more control over their schedules.”

This manager understood very well that the opportunity cost of time is turned on its head in the free market for talent. Why? Because of the intersection of two factors: First, speed matters more than ever before in the new economy. People who work faster get products and services to market faster. So in contrast to the era of face-time, the longer you take to get your work done, the less valuable you are to your employer. Second, the people who can get more work done faster than the rest are valuable enough to command their own terms. In more cases than not, the speed demons are only going to sell their speedy work to employers willing to give them more control over their own schedules.

What is the moral of this story? Forget about time served and focus on results achieved. And do whatever it takes to reward high performers in time, money, and any other currency you can muster. I am not recommending fraud, but if the compensation is out of alignment, you may have to bend the rules to get the best work out of the best people.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,


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