Output vs Outcome

Output and Outcomes are two foundational aspects of thinking in terms of OKRs.

An output is something you do, an outcome is something that happens as a consequence of what you do. Outputs are efforts that are in your control, whereas Outcomes are the results as a consequence of your Outputs. Some examples

outcome vs output

Experienced practitioners of OKRs have this difference ingrained in them when they are defining OKRs. Both Objectives and Key Results are Outcomes – the former is directional and the latter is measurable. But it takes time to naturally think about the Outcomes we want to achieve. Most people naturally focus on tasks and activities in their control. It’s relatively easy to come up with a list of what you need to do today, this week, and this month. Stephen Covey details in his book “The 7 Habits of highly effective people” that we should always start by working out the end result we want to achieve. Once the Outcomes are figured out, then one can figure out the execution steps.

Why do people have a natural inclination to define Outputs instead of Outcomes?

For many people, it takes a significant shift in thinking to focus on outcomes instead of outputs. Defining outputs can be easy because these are the things that come to our mind quickly, and over time Doing for the sake of Doing becomes a habit. Doing something gives us a good feeling because working on an activity releases dopamine. However, achieving outcomes as a consequence of doing activities is not straightforward as the Outcomes are not 100% in the doer’s control.

The OKR framework only advocates the setting of Outcomes as goals, either in the form of Objectives or Key Results. It almost works like a visualization strategy where essentially teams figure out ‘What does success look like?’ Once there is agreement on the end state, the next of business is to figure out what it takes to be successful. These activities are captured as Initiatives. Fundamentally, the OKR framework transforms the teams to be results-driven instead of activity-driven, which projects the image of busyness at the cost of not being effective. Leadership usually takes the lead in defining and communicating the Outcomes, followed by Management and Individual Contributors taking the lead in figuring out the Outputs that accomplish the Outcomes.

Focusing on results will not only boost performance but also minimizes micromanagement. Don’t tell the Content Marketing team how much content they need to produce in a week (output), instead make them accountable for getting a certain amount of organic traffic (outcome).

Irrespective of the type of goals you are trying to accomplish – personal, professional, or organizational, working on them within the perspective of Objectives and Key Results is going to make the process more practical and achievable because OKRs let you focus on what matters the most and pave the path for goal execution. In addition to this, organizational OKRs bring alignment between teams and the organization, laying the foundation for High-performance culture. 

To learn more about how OKRs methodology can benefit your organization and how you can transition your team to OKR methodology seamlessly, schedule a call today.

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