InsideOut Development

When to Use an Outside-In Approach

by Lindsay Bragg


The InsideOut coaching approach is essential to maximizing performance and driving long-term success. It’s the best way to help individuals take ownership of action plans and key results. It’s founded in the belief that everyone has the capacity to learn and perform at a higher level.

This InsideOut approach—or the “ask” approach”—removes interference so individuals can learn faster and act on existing knowledge to solve complex problems and build ownership. It asks “what can I bring out of this individual to help them perform better?” It operates in the belief that people already know what they need to know to do a task, but something is preventing them from doing it.

What is the InsideOut Mindset?

But there are times when the Outside-In Approach—or the “tell” or “advice-giving” approach—works best. The Outside-In approach asks “what can I put in to give this person the answers they need to succeed?” It operates in the belief that this person would be able to do the task if they just have a key piece of information.

It’s absolutely essential when you need to give urgent direction or explain complex policies that must be followed for purposes of safety, liability, or consistency.

Use the Outside-In Approach when all four* of these conditions show up:

  1. The coach is an expert.
  2. The coach can effectively communicate their knowledge.
  3. The performer is interested in what the coach has to say.
  4. The performer has enough awareness to act on the advice.

*If even one of these elements is missing, you’ll find an InsideOut Mindset more effective at driving behavior change.

The Coach is an Expert

Often, managers are promoted because they’re great at what they do. But that doesn’t mean they’re great at inspiring that greatness in others. If the coach really is an expert in their field, then they probably have some key advice to help others step up to the plate.

But beware of Imposter Syndrome.

Often managers think they need to be the expert—they need to know everything. Great managers know they don’t need to be the expert on every subject. But they do recognize when they don’t know the answer.

It’s okay NOT to know the answer, but if you do know the answer, then the Outside-In approach may work for you.

When a coach isn’t an expert, the InsideOut Approach lets managers and employees to solve problems together.

WATCH OUT: If the coach is not truly an expert, the “advice” the coach gives could be bad, incorrect, or counterproductive.

The Coach Can Communicate Their Knowledge

Being an expert is isn’t useful if the coach can’t communicate that knowledge. Being an expert in the field is only half of the battle to be a great leader. Communication skills are you share and inspire that awesome in others. Often, the best people at doing a job a promoted to management positions, but they aren’t taught how to best share their skills with others.

There are plenty of resources to help people communicate better. We even wrote an ebook on the subject. But even the best communicators can be hamstringed by circumstances beyond their control.

How to Help New Managers Communicate Like a Boss: The Ultimate e-Book for Onboarding New Managers

General communication best practices are great, but other forms of miscommunication can interfere with a coach’s ability to communicate with a particular individual. Cultural, generational, and individual differences can all impact communication.

Processes and tools play just as critical a role in effective communication as individual communication skills. While this is true of any employee, it’s especially important for remote employees. Make sure your tech stack enhances your communication skills.

WATCH OUT: If the coach can’t effectively communicate their knowledge, the coach’s well-intentioned help could actually just complicate matters and be misconstrued.

The Performer is Interested in What the Coach Has to Say

Some elements of communication are out of the coach’s control. Like talking a teenager out of a bad boyfriend, if the performer isn’t interested in the coach’s opinion, it will fall on deaf ears.

There are many factors that could impact a performer’s interest in their manager’s opinion—it’s about more than obstinance. Performers may be unaware of a problem that would require manager intervention. They may think they have the tools and the know-how to solve the problem on their own. They may be overwhelmed and overloaded with information and simply can’t process more information.

If an employee has taken ownership of a problem or project and a manager forces an unwanted Outside-In approach, they may switch of high-performing ownership to basic accountability.

Accountability or Ownership: Moving People From Compliance to Commitment

WATCH OUT: If the performer isn’t interested in what the coach has to say, the advice will fall on deaf ears, and the manager/employee relationship could suffer as a result.

The Performer has Enough Awareness to Act on the Advice

If a performer is so overwhelmed by a project, or completely unaware of a problem, it may not be a problem of interest, but of awareness and ability to act. If you share your well-intentioned, well-articulated, and well-warranted idea, will the employee be able to act on the information?

If a performer is unaware of a problem, or unaware of the impact the problem is having on others, then it’s time of an Alignment Conversation. These conversations realign expectations and objectives between employees and organizations. An alignment conversation takes an InsideOut approach to generating awareness of a problem, identifying the root of the problem, and agreeing on an actionable Way Forward.

WATCH OUT: If a performer doesn’t have the awareness or capacity to act on the advice given, employees will leave more overwhelmed or confused with yet another inaccessible “way forward.”

If the performer comes to the coach, in their role as an expert, trusting in their ability to solve the problem, the performer probably has enough awareness of the problem to act on the advice. At this point, an Outside-In approach is the right approach.

If you’re unsure of the answer to any of these criteria, try defaulting to an InsideOut approach. Learn more about your natural approach and how to maximize it in this quiz.

Are You InsideOut or Outside-In?

Category: Coaching InsideOut Mindset

Picture of Lindsay Bragg

Lindsay is a Communications Specialist at InsideOut Development and holds a degree in Public Relations from Brigham Young University. She’s also worked as a newspaper reporter and account director at a PR agency. When she’s not researching or writing great content on nearly every HR topic under the sun, she volunteers teaching leadership skills to children and adults with disabilities at an equine assisted therapy center.

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