Outputs vs Outcomes

How does anyone become expert at anything?

How do we know what high performance looks like?

How can we best support performance in the work context?

All different questions, all geared up for a similar set of answers.

While I worked as a consultant to Ford Motor Co., I worked in the same building where they trained their apprentices in Dagenham. At the end of the two year programme, they produced fully ready apprentices ready to join the workforce proper.

You know what was the single most important factor of this success?

The training. Nothing less, nothing more.

You know what was the biggest challenge they had?

The training. Massively unpredictable even though there was a curriculum to work towards.

In the L&D world, it is easy to get lost in the outputs of what we produce and forget about the outcomes. I’m very guilty of this.

Performance support at work is all about providing learning at the point of need. This is the single biggest challenge facing L&D departments everywhere.

There’s no silver bullet for this stuff. We have to doggedly work at educating the business into what that difference is. When they keep asking for stats on bums on seats and spend per head, that’s fine but it means very little. We need to be providing information on outcomes.

That means things like:
– A person’s time management and personal organisation improved because they understood how to make that happen
– A cohort of people completing a programme of activity ready to take on the next business challenge
– A fully trained group ready to join the workforce
– Improved performance by a team who undertook some proper team development
– Greater use of technology or systems because of improved literacy and education levels

I look at that list and I know that those outcomes are what I should be focused on. But because it’s easier to describe the outputs, I lose sight of the outcomes.

More pertinently, what I think happens is that we forget that we’re the experts in learning and performance support. That means we have a mantle on which not many others in our organisation can occupy. We may be able to argue the toss about which delivery method is better than another, but the challenge is how we help others to understand that we know how to achieve the outcome best. I’ve had many an argument with senior directors because of this. It’s our single most difficult task we’ll ever have to do.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “Outputs vs Outcomes”

  1. I’m having a bit of trouble with your post. Even though I agree very much with your premise, that those of us in L&D need to pay more attention to outcomes, I’m having difficulty with your terminology, namely, the difference between output and outcome.

    I use production technology terms, “input/output”, to define the process of training, where “input” is energy, material or data necessary to derive an outcome. “Output” is the measurable result. Using these terms:
    – bums on seats
    – number of hours spent in training
    – cost budgeting
    – performance improvements
    – effectiveness
    – engagement

    Is your “outcome” the same as my “output”? Perhaps it’s a difference between UK and US English.

    1. Thanks for asking me to clarify, Leo.

      I was conscious also of the similarity to inputs/outputs.

      I think if you replace inputs/outputs with outputs/outcomes you’ll arrive at the same place as I’m trying to suggest.

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