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Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes: The Recipe for a Successful Performance Management Program

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Dodd
November 2, 2018

One of my fondest memories as a child involves eating copious amounts of homemade Italian food, including pasta made from scratch by my grandmother. Although I occasionally assisted in the kitchen, my involvement with her cooking mostly involved eating. Tasting such flavorful pasta, gravy, pizza, soup and bread, I assumed complex favors meant complex ingredients and techniques. One day, while showing me what she was making, my grandmother said, “You know, Tim, Italian cooking is quite simple. It’s all about the right ingredients.” Years later, her comment still sticks with me about the role that fresh and high-quality ingredients place in achieving the end result.

In performance management, metrics that measure the ingredients, or the aspects of actions that we control, are known as inputs. While inputs should never be the end of a performance management program, they are important aspects at the beginning. After all, if we aren’t using high quality flour and just the right amount of water to bake a cake, why would expect the cake to come out fully cooked and tasting great? While inputs should never rise to the level of defining outcomes an organization hopes to achieve, tracking them internally is critical to understanding the achievement of results and outcomes.

The second step of measuring performance management focuses on results achieved based on the input of the ingredients and the use of the right recipe. Using stale or low-quality ingredients could impact the quality of the cake, and it might not fully bake nor taste right. The second stage, known as outputs, focuses on the process-based results that are achieved.

Lastly comes the hardest part, answering the “why” question, as in “why did your grandmother spend six hours in the kitchen making a meal for Christmas?” She did not do it because she wanted to use high quality ingredients, nor did she do it because she wanted a meal that came out fully cooked and presented well. Rather, she did it to make her family happy. Finding the connection between the right ingredients and the right recipe and food that is fully prepared is relatively straight forward. If you forget to add the right amount of yeast to bread, chances are it will not rise. However, finding the connection between a fully cooked meal and a family being happy is challenging, and what performance management is all about. This is especially challenging given the fact that there are external factors at play that may shift the outcome and over which an organization may have little control. Even if you spent five hours in the kitchen making a cake for your son’s birthday, all that effort may not equal happiness if he lost a baseball game hours before celebrating.

In developing a performance management structure in an organization, including all three levels of measurement is credibly important. Often, entities either elevate inputs and outputs to a high level, or they focus efforts on achieving outcomes without a backend structure of inputs and outputs to understand the connection between their actions and the end results. Known as cascading, identifying and monitoring all three types of metrics allows organizations to understand whether they are working to achieve their set outcomes.

A city that wants to help the homeless might start by measuring contacts with those experiencing homelessness, providing them with brochures and information on receiving assistance. While this measure will tell the city much about whether it is succeeding in getting people off the streets and into housing, it is an important first step in achieving that outcome. By providing this information, the city of course hopes individuals experiencing homelessness will seek out assistance contained in the information they received. This output shows whether the effort of contacting individuals experiencing homelessness is working.

Developing a structure that allows for the collection of inputs, outputs and outcomes is critically important to the development of a performance management system. Understanding their relationship is the key to success in achieving outcomes.


Author: Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]

 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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