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Specify the Outputs, Not the Inputs


We all are aware of how quickly the world has changed and continues to change, yet many of us are operating from a management and leadership model that just isn’t nearly as effective as it has been for the last hundred years or so. Companies are organized to maximize profits by managing scarce resources and increasing efficiencies. That used to mean that scale was good and bigger was always better. The bigger you got the more valuable your resources became and those valuable resources needed to be allocated in the most efficient manner possible. Makes sense, but it is no longer a universal truth and if it is no longer valid then the way we manage resources are antiquated as well.

In order to insure that resources (that were expensive and scarce) were deployed in the best way possible organizations dictated the inputs into most jobs and functions down to a level of minutiae that seems almost comical in today’s world. SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) ran into the thousands of pages for many simple businesses (think McDonalds for example).

In today’s world, while resources are still valuable, many resources are not as scarce as they were. I’m referring to knowledge and information as opposed to uranium or industrial plastics. Given that more and more of what we do (and produce and ultimately sell to our clients and customers) has a lot more “knowledge” than “uranium”, we need to be less control focused relative to the input side of the equation.

We need to lead and manage by being clear about the outputs that we desire and give people the tools and the leeway they need to achieve them. We need to hold people accountable to the outputs but be less concerned (and waste less time and energy) about how they get there. Giving someone control of the inputs gives them not only ownership in the process, but opens up a world of possibilities that could bring about better inputs over the long haul as well.

I realize that this is not a universal phenomenon – there are standards and requirements that apply in many lines of work that are absolutely necessary and in many industries being specific about inputs for certain tasks and jobs is absolutely necessary. What I am suggesting is that if the default has been that leaders and managers must specify the inputs as well as the desired outputs to question that default and be willing to take some risk and move away from that model. The organizations that are willing to let go of the control (or who never had it as part of their culture to start with) and focus on results are more creative, more competitive and can increase their efficiencies as well as their employees’ level of engagement.

The world, the market and the composition of the workforce is more dynamic today than ever before. What we’ve always relied on as “tried and true” is not always so and we need to change the way we think, act, behave, operate, lead and manage in order to thrive and grow as individuals and organizations.


Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Better still what about outcomes vs. outputs?

    Management and leadership is all about delivering outcomes otherwise surely we just end up getting busier doing more to do more. We often hear “we need to do more” – but more of what? If it isn’t delivering outcomes then it isn’t adding value.

    Output is a measure of efficiency, outcomes must be a measure of effectiveness.

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