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Organisational and Professional Development

Managing by Outputs or Outcomes


  • Outputs refer to the quantifiable results of a person’s work;
  • Outcomes refer to the impact of that output, or the difference it makes to those affected by it.

For example: the output of a project might be a new process for responding to student queries.  The outcomes of that project may be shorter waiting times and increased student satisfaction.  There may be many different outputs which could result in a particular outcome.

Outcomes or outputs?

In many cases, we should be aiming to manage by outcomes.  Just because a certain output has been achieved, doesn’t mean it will have the outcome that we want.  Managing by outcomes allows staff to decide how to achieve those outcomes; they decide on the outputs, and the steps necessary to reach them.   

However, sometimes outcomes can be difficult to measure, or will take a long time to become measurable – although we should always seek to measure and evaluate outcomes.

Sometimes, for operational reasons (because outputs are already very clearly defined), managing by outcomes is not practical.

Managers, teams, and individuals should agree how they will manage and be managed.

Managing by outcomes/outputs in the hybrid model

Because managers and teams will not have as much face-to-face time in the hybrid working model, managing by outputs/outcomes makes more sense.  It allows individuals the independence to decide how they will carry out their work, and avoids ‘micro-management’ of the entire process.

Managing in this way needs trust and confidence in the staff member’s ability to achieve the agreed output or outcome.

Being managed in this way can feel like a sharp contrast from being managed more closely through the process.  It can feel like the manager has lost interest in the work that needs to be done.  Clear communication is necessary to explain that a change in approach is taking place, and what the benefits are. 

This approach doesn’t mean that the manager can’t or shouldn’t have any input into how outcomes/outputs are reached.  For example, there maybe University processes that need to be considered, or suggestions from stakeholders.  This is something that the manager and staff member might want to discuss and agree on, with the staff member taking the lead in that discussion.

You may choose to discuss outcome- or output-based objectives in the context of SMART objectives:

  • Specific: How exactly is an outcome being defined: what is going to be different, and how? How will the outputs contribute to this?  What would a successful outcome look like - can you describe it?
  • Measurable: How can the outcome be measured? What is the current measurement (the baseline) against which this will be measured after the outputs have been delivered?  Can we benchmark against other departments or institutions?  If the measurement is not quantifiable, how can we know the outcome has been achieved?
  • Achievable: Is this a realistic outcome or output? Might other teams or areas need to be involved?  Are there other factors which might impact on the outcome?
  • Relevant: Is this outcome related to the work done by the team or area?  Is it related to the broader strategic objectives of the department/faculty/school?  How does it link to Strategy 2030?
  • Time: Objectives should have a deadline.  For regular activities, you should consider how long they should take to complete (e.g. respond to e-mails within 24 hours. provide student feedback within 1 week, etc). If the objective will take a long time to complete, it’s helpful to consider milestones for delivery.  How often will this be reviewed?
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