What Should I Measure? What Am I Measuring? Inputs, Outputs, Outcomes, Impacts?

You are NOT measuring what you want. You want your efforts to do something, to mean something. You give your will towards a future you love. When you don’t consciously choose how you engage your will, your creativity, your efforts, your attention, you feel disengaged, like most of the people seem to feel most of the time at work. If you want your efforts to have an impact, then measure your efforts and their impact.

What are you actually measuring? Your impact? Probably not. Lots of research on evaluation shows that most people are measuring inputs or outputs. Not outcomes and impacts.

Two questions. What is the difference? Does it matter? There is a difference, and it does matter. In fact, What You Measure Is What You Pay Attention To (WYMIWYPAT — pronounced “wimy why pat”).

What is the difference? First of all, you get resources to do something that impacts someone else. In organization-speak, you engage and accumulate assets, which you transform into a service or product that others want. In the figure below, there are inputs that flow into the Asset Accumulation, and there are outputs that flow out. These outputs of resources generate outcomes, within the organization, which have impacts for the recipients outside of the organization. [Here are OECD definitions of these terms.]

Differentiating Inflows, Outflows, Outcomes, Impacts

Does it matter? What are you measuring? Most people are measuring INPUTS. Their story is about the number of people they have working, the number of service offices they have, the number of products they have, the inventory available. We are a 12,000-member company with 450 fully-stocked storefronts in 210 communities, providing dozens of services.

Some people tell a narrative about their OUTPUTS. The number of hours worked, the number of meals served, the number of units sold.  Last year, with 120,000 hours of service, we provided 234,000 meals to 56,000 elderly in 700 communities.

With a famous example, you can focus on the number of drills you have (inputs), the number of drills sold (outputs), the sustainability of the profits from the drills sold (outcomes), or the holes drilled (impacts). The famous question is whether the customer wants the drill or the hole that the drill makes.

The main point is that what gets your attention gets your intention. Where you focus is where you act. If you really want your efforts to make a difference, if you want your work to mean something, then you need the feedback from the impacts your efforts have. You need to measure impacts. To be able to adjust what you are doing (outputs), and how well you are doing it (outcomes), you can also measure your outputs and outcomes. To know what resources you need for those activities, you can also measure inputs. The inputs, outputs, and outcomes are in service to your impacts. Understanding them can help you evolve what you do and how you do it to achieve the impacts you want. This gives your efforts meaning, and the ability to evolve your capacity to serve that meaning.

Your choice is to think about how you measure that meaning, the impact of your efforts, in terms of the recipient. Then you can choose how to assess what you do and how you do it to achieve those efforts, on an on-going manner, to continuously improve, to evolve. It is your choice.

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