Lockdown learning: #5 Activity, output & outcomes

A short series of 2 minute observations…

I have a very easy lockdown situation tainted with only some frustrations. Shopping for food takes a lot longer (queues  and multiple trips to find missing items); there is more cooking  and drink-making than normal and zoom fatigue sometimes seems a high price to keep up with people.. to name a few.

I find it easy to keep busy but I have noticed that my activity is not as productive. I am sure that most organisations are also finding this – with the need to social distance; new and sometimes more complicated logistics;  additional staff being needed for tasks like door control or equipment cleaning and in many cases fewer customers. Generally things are more difficult.

Output has suffered.

Sometimes it can be even worse. A friend of ours is a travel agent. They are fantastically busy, they are producing lots of outputs but the outcome is negative for the business – a lot less money for the business as they secure refunds for their customers. In their case output is still high but…

Outcomes have suffered.

This linkage, activity~output~outcome is very important both for people and organisations and  yet is infrequently evaluated.

If you are like me, too often you simply take it for granted. We get carried away and assume that there is a stable relationship between activity and outcome.  Yet our lockdown brings this relationship into sharp relief. In ‘normal’ times, we often carry on with an activity without really looking at how much and what quality of output it is producing and certainly the dimensions and value of the outcome. Yet this full linkage is fundamental for genuine productivity.

Those people and organisations that can work out how best to make this linkage work under the current conditions are the ones who will prosper.

Ironically it is the non-profits who explicitly look at this when hunting for a better grasp of the impact of what they are doing. Yet it is just as valuable for others, both individuals and organisations. Too many common proxies for outcomes (profit, sales or orders in companies; jobs, facebook friends or net wealth for individuals) are actually poor substitutes for desired outcomes and doing the actual analysis.

Thinking what are really good measures and keeping track of them is very valuable.

I’d like to say I am on top of this… but nailing those outcomes is especially difficult. Deciding what they are is tough enough – it is even tougher to decide what they should be.