Measure Something Meaningful: Activities, Outputs, or Outcomes?

Benjamin Franklin warned us to “Never confuse motion with action.” I’m going to go one step further and caution that we should not confuse doing the work with delivering the product or positively affecting the business.

I’ll use the words “Activity,” “Outputs,” and “Outcomes.” The following lists shows the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, my adaptation of that definition (in this context), and a few examples to illustrate the differences.

Oxford English Dictionary

Activity: The condition in which things are happening or being done.

Outputs: The amount of something produced by a person, machine, or industry.

Outcomes: The way a thing turns out; a consequence.

In This Context

Activity: Tasks performed to do the work.

Outputs: Products delivered.

Outcomes: A business result.


Activity: pages written, meetings attended, estimates completed.

Outputs: Books finished, changes implemented, proposals delivered (we assume on-time.)

Outcomes: Books sold, revenue, profit, effect on employee morale or opinion, contracts won.

Many employees like to point out “I worked hard.” News flash! We are all expected to work hard. That’s a basic expectation of having and keeping a job. Frankly, you don’t get ahead for meeting the basic requirements.

My personal experience includes several employees who tried to tell me how exceptional they were for attending so many meetings. Meetings, done correctly, are great places to make decisions and get the guidance needed for attendees to get some great work done…after the meeting! If you’re completing your personal work while attending the meeting, you cannot be paying attention and participating in the meeting.

Completing a work product is important. Every employee is expected to complete work products. The output of one employee becomes input to another employee or to the eventual customer. However, the most important thing is the business consequences and results.

It’s great to deliver a finished book or estimate but if they don’t generate revenue and profit, they’re not very valuable to the business. In fact, they’re a drain on overhead. What’s the primary purpose of business…to make money.

This wisdom can be helpful in identifying and implementing business measurements as well as individual employee goals and objectives. Leadership and investors like outcomes.

Stephen P. (Steve) Czerniak

About the author: Mr. Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” His is currently a volunteer at the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator and the Troy Historic Village and Society. 

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