Tag Archives: definition

More on Definition of Outcomes vs. Objectives

I was asked for more explanation on the differences between Outcomes and Objectives.

  • The Outcome is the effect that we want to see happen in the lives of our clients.
  • The Objective is the thing that we must achieve in order to cause the results in the lives of our clients.
  • Outcomes are written independently of us.
  • Objectives are written to tell us what we must achieve, so they are written for us.

My boss put it like this: A simple way to differentiate between Outcomes and Objectives is that Objectives focus on intended results, whilst Outcomes focus on achieved results. Objectives also clarify how we get to the Outcomes; what needs to be accomplished in order for the Outcomes to be achieved.

Outcome based thinking has become standard in much of the commercial world. For example, businesses are much more focused on levels of customer satisfaction than the wait time on customer service phone answering systems. Wait time on customer service answering systems would have an impact on customer satisfaction, but if you can achieve customer satisfaction by some completely different means (e.g. change product design to have few faults, use live chat customer service rather than phone calls) then the end problem is solved.

As a result of this, some major donors to Christian ministry in the US have made donations dependent upon outcomes rather than activities. The first example I heard about was the McClellan Foundation, that was funding the Book of Hope ministry. Book of Hope was distributing Bibles in the developing world, and was being funded along the lines of “$x puts y Bibles in the hands of z children”. This led to a mentality of “our job is to distribute Bibles” regardless of their impact on people’s lives. The McClellan Foundation said it didn’t want to fund Bibles being distributed, but to see children who follow Jesus in the target countries. As a result of this, the Book of Hope ministry changed its emphasis to distribution of Bibles and teaching from them. Continued funding from the McClellan Foundation was dependent upon before-and-after qualitative surveys in the target demographics. Prior to the project a survey is taken asking key questions (e.g. Do you know who Jesus is?, Do you lie to your parents?). After the ministry the survey is taken again, and the impact of the ministry on the children is assessed.

From a leadership perspective, I think that Outcomes are better goals to set for staff because they give more freedom in implementation by the staff in order to achieve the desired end result.

Some more specific examples of Outcomes vs. Objectives:

Example A:

  • Outcome: Everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.
  • Objective: Spiritual movements launched everywhere containing people who truly follow Jesus by end 2020.

Example B:

  • Outcome: 100 students in the University of Warsaw living a Spirit filled life.
  • Objective: Spirit filled life taught and demonstrated to student leaders in University of Warsaw by June 30 2015.

Example C:

  • Outcome: No Eastern Europe staff leave our organization because of lack of funds.
  • Objective: 100% of Eastern Europe staff are fully funded by Dec 31 2016.

Defining Outcome vs. Objective vs. Action

There is often confusion between the terms Outcome, Objective and Actions in strategic plans.

The principle behind the use of these words is to think in terms of:

  • What do we want to see change in our client?
  • What does that change look like from the perspective of the service that we provide?
  • What do we do to create that change?

When writing a plan, the general flow of thinking should be:

  1. What changes do we want to see in the people we serve?
  2. What changes do we need to make in order to effect the desired change in the people we serve?
  3. What do we actually do to cause those changes?

If this thinking is used, then:

  • The Outcome is the change that we want to see in the people we serve.
  • The Objective is the change that we need to make in order to cause the effect of the Outcomes in the people we serve.
  • The Actions are the things that we do to cause those changes.

In more detail, the differences between these terms are:

Outcome

  • The Outcome is the result is for the people we serve.
  • An Outcome is a description of the results written from the perspective of the client.
  • The advantage of writing Outcomes is that regardless of what we do and how we get there, if we focus on the outcome the result will always be delivered for the client.
  • Outcomes should be written so that the changes in the client, or the effects of our actions on the client, are observable and measurable in a specific timeframe.

Objective

  • The Objective is the result of what we do.
  • An objective is a description of the results written from our perspective.
  • The advantage of writing Objectives is that they more directly relate to us and what we do. A possible disadvantage is that that badly written objectives could result in success for us, but not achieving the goal for the people we are supposed to serve.
  • Objectives should be written so that we can see if we have done what we said we would do (i.e. observable and measurable) in a specific timeframe.
  • Objectives can be related to desired outcomes. Objectives can be determined from Outcomes, by re-writing them from our perspective. The achievement of well written objectives should inherently and unambiguously lead to the achievement of related outcomes.

Action

  • An Action is what we do.
  • Steps taken by us in order to achieve the Outcomes or Objectives.
  • Actions should be measurable and time-bound.

Example 1:

Outcome:

Strategic plans will contain correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in 2015.

Objective:

Explain the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end of 2014.

Actions:

Write and e-mail explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Post a blog entry explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Respond to all questions from staff about the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end December 2014.

Example 2:

Outcome:

20 new countries have new Student Led Movements by end 2020.

Objective:

Student Led Movements launched in 20 new countries by end 2020.

Actions:

Training of students in leading new movements by end 2015.

Arrange sending trips for existing student movement leaders to 10 new countries by end 2017.

Strategic vs. Important

Many things can be important, but only one thing can be strategic.

The word “strategic” seems to have become a euphemism for “the thing that I want to do and I want you to consider as important so that we can agree that I can go ahead and do it”. An example of this is “attending this conference is strategic”. Another might be “we had a strategic meeting”.

Strategy is the path forward that is identified as being the best thing to do to get from where we are now to where we want to go after all of the alternative have been considered. While attending a conference or having had a really productive meeting might have been determined to be the best way to achieve your end goal, would the best way to describe them be “strategic”.

The only way that I bring this up is because, if the word “strategic” is diluted by improper use, then our ability to help field teams truly lead strategically (as defined earlier in this blog) is just going to be harder.

I’d love to get your comments on this, unless you are one of those spammers who seem to think that my posts are very insightful.

What is a Strategic Plan?

I had a heated discussion with a colleague of mine this week. You might have called it an argument, except we both agreed with each other. We were discussing “strategic plans”. My colleague pointed out that the term strategic plans is heavily loaded, and carries a history with it of things that are:

  1. at least 20 pages long
  2. are written by subordinates for supervisors
  3. are re-written the following year upon demand
  4. have no impact on the funding received by the writer
  5. have no impact upon the work that will be carried out by the writer.

However, personally, I don’t recall ever having written a plan like that. I may have written some, but the fact that I don’t recall ever doing so is indicative that any like that written by me were never owned by me.

I have written many plans that I recall. These plans were all written by me to enable me to clarify my thoughts of what I needed to do, and then to help me through the process of doing them.

I can’t remember ever having to do so, but if I had been asked to define what the term strategic plan was I would have probably come up with something like:

“A description of what we need to do to best meet the customer’s requirements using the capabilities of our organization in a way that provides competitive advantage.”

I would have based this definition upon the premise that there are three sources of ideas for products and processes (the three “C”s):

  1. CUSTOMER – The customer’s ideas of what they want.
  2. COMPETITION – Improving upon what the competition is doing.
  3. CAPABILITY – The engineers dreaming up what they think that we can do.

These three domains of ideas intersect with a product or process concept that meets some of the customer’s ideas, while dodging around the competition in a way that uniquely builds upon the capabilities of our internal resources.

I would have said that the strategic plan was the actions that need to be taken to implement something in this sweet spot of intersection of the three domains of ideas.

In Christian ministry we do not have the same concept of competition as we did in the telecom industry. Our “competition” is spiritual. However, there are other ministries doing God’s work, and rather than provide competitive advantage, for the sake of macro level stewardship, we avoid directly doing what another ministry is doing. The principle of the definition of the strategic plan has a strong parallel with that which I would have given in my old role:

“A description of what we need to do to most effectively move towards the Vision of the organization using the unique capabilities of our organization.”

This description might be hundreds of pages, or it might be one page. The length depends upon the complexity of the problem being solved and the personal need of the implementors to have written guidelines to which they can refer during the execution of the plan.