Neil McCormick returns this week to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board from Australia. Neil has worked in human resources and consulting services for the past 16 years building a repertoire covering human resource management, recruitment consulting, management consulting, talent management, general management and learning and development. He currently serves as General Manager for Talent2, Asia-Pac’s largest HR consultancy. Full Bio
The Output’s Connected to the Outcome
In my last article What’s the
Objective, we discussed Workforce Strategy and the importance of rigor in assessing how human resource activity serves the objectives of the organization. We looked at programs that offer evidentiary process, repeatability, and defensibility for the review of human resource activity. We discussed human resource Standards and the framework of Input, Process, Output and Outcome.
Since then, I’ve had numerous questions about the differences between Output and Outcome. I’ve also had some interesting discussions how Output and Outcome disconnect, and how a lack of linkage is why some human resource initiatives stall or even fail. So, I have revisited Outputs and Outcome to explain how and why projects never reach their objective.
To recap, Outputs are the deliverables, goods and services used to achieve the Outcome, which are the intended results or consequences of those deliverables.
Human resource activity has a majority focus on Output instead of Outcome. To business leaders, indicators such as average performance ratings, course completions, head count increases, which measure the Outputs, don’t mean much in terms of improved bottom line results such as profitability or increased sales –the Outcome. While these Output measurements and reports are meaningful, they also need to be tied to the goals of both human resources and the organization as a whole.
Think of a typical talent management initiative.
Say an organization decides to implement an on-going training program to improve profit. The required Outcome was an increase in both new sales and repeat sales. To do this, the project team focused on a sales training program that included annual refresher courses. Every person involved in the sales process was included in the project initiative. The project team initially focused on deciding what the appropriate course was and then proceeded to draft a project plan to get everyone through the course in the most efficient and effective way.
When the program was first launched, there was a reasonable understanding of the importance of the training program. In typical fashion, the fanfare of the new initiative meant everyone had an idea of the importance of the overall program and project.
As the project rolled out, the emphasis was on completion and pass percentages –a trend that is quite prevalent. The assumption is that if the Output is achieved (pass percentages and completions) the Outcome (improved sales) will automatically follow. Unfortunately, without evidence conclusively showing a correlation between increased sales and the program, this is a false assumption. Because the focus becomes getting everyone through the courses and making sure everyone passes, the reporting quickly turns to Output reporting. The intended Outcome of increased profits is lost.
A significant point I’ve raised above is the fact that most senior leaders and line managers aren’t interested in reports of Outputs when they don’t see any links to the Outcome they are interested in. They don’t see a practical benefit.
What about the next 12 months though? How often, with projects and programs of this nature, do we see:
- The focus slips and becomes more about completion of the training? Possibly highlighting how the “score” has improved?
- How often the Objectives are truly linked to the performance criteria and measured in terms of Outcome?
- How long it take for the program to end up a Process (e.g. Percentage Completion), an activity trap; regarded by most as nothing more than a time consuming event that must be completed?
This is easier to see diagrammatically. If the x axis includes Input, Process, Output and Outcome and time as the y axis:
If there isn’t an on-going renewal of the link between Outcome and Output, then the program quickly slips into Output mode, where scores are everything. It then goes to process mode, where completion is the main driver. At this point, the project is well and truly in the activity trap of process for processes sake.
Further, an Outcome focused model elevates the need for potential benefits realization after the fact.
To be successful, it is critical that any program or project, from inception through design and implementation must be focused on Outcome. There also needs to be a continuing process to communicate that the activity is part of an overall objective and how their individual activity achieves the Outcome. This is ensures that plan does not defeat the purpose and that all activity is focused on Outcomes not Outputs!
Next time, I’ll explain the importance of evaluating Criticality.