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Are Your Inputs Aligned with Your Outputs?

Achieving the results you desire by focusing more on lead measures than on outcome

If You’re Not Getting the Results You Desire, Align Inputs with Outputs

Do you find yourself unable to consistently get or replicate your desired results?

Well, if you happened to be perusing a system’s theory textbook on the topic of inputs and outputs (and who wouldn’t be?), you’d read that an input is what you put into a system to fuel a process, and an output is the result you obtain.

I don’t know about you, but “input, process, output is the kind of three-variable system that a non-engineering person like myself can get my head around.

We can refer to outputs as lag measures, or the metrics by which we decide if something is successful. We have all experienced lag measure in our lives: the number on the bathroom scale, the revenue at the end of the quarter, or the report card after the semester. Lag measures show up at the end of a process. But by the time they’re visible, our ability to influence them has passed. We can get frustrated by them, depressed over them, and even angry at them, but lag measures couldn’t care less. Spending the time and energy to change lag measure is like refusing to leave the stadium after the game is over. You stare at the scoreboard, steadfast in your resolve that you’re not moving until it magically changes and your team is declared the winner.

While it’s human nature to focus on the lag measure when things aren’t going right, it’s best to turn our energy elsewhere. We need to focus even more on the inputs or what we call lead measures.

Lead measures are the actions we take that add up to a lag measure: For instance, the number of doughnuts you eliminate from your daily diet, the quality and quantity of time you spend in face-to-face meetings with your clients, or the evenings you dedicate to homework instead of binge-watching television.

While many inputs might contribute to the desired output, identifying the right input can make all the difference.

A colleague of mine, Deb, recognized she needed to change a behavioral input with her young son, Dylan. Each morning, during the rush of getting out the door and into the car, he had the habit of forgetting his shoes. Every morning, as she was getting ready for work, she would ask Dylan if he had everything he needed for the day and on his way to the car, he would reply that he did. After making the drive to Dylan’s school, Deb would pull up to the curb at the school to drop him off and it was then that he would announce that he had forgotten his shoes. Frustrated and running late for work, Deb would chastise him for not remembering his shoes, even after she had asked him about them. She would then drive back to the house for the shoes and then drive Dylan back to school to receive a tardy for being late. This routine continued to happen on a regular basis and Deb knew she had to figure out a way to solve the problem for good. Her desired output was to rear a child who was responsible, self-motivated, and in time, fully capable of taking care of himself.

The output Deb wanted was for Dylan to have his shoes on before she drove him to school. The inputs she had employed included prompting him to remember his shoes and chastising him if he didn’t remember, racing back home for the shoes and delivering him late (tardiness means nothing to a seven-year-old). Deb decided to step back and reevaluate her inputs. She decided that if Dylan experienced the natural consequences of forgetting his shoes, it might motive a change. She decided that instead of returning home to grab the forgotten shoes, she’d allow him to spend the day in his socks. The next time that Dylan announced he had forgotten his shoes again, Deb announced that he would have to go to school without shoes that day. Dylan exclaimed, “I can’t do that!” Dylan had not expected that outcome. Deb patiently explained that he could stay inside at recess and that she’d be back to pick him up after school. Dylan reluctantly climbed out of the car and made his way to his classroom and Deb went on her way to work. Both of them were on time.

The next morning, Dylan remembered his shoes, as well as the morning after that. Dylan never forgot to wear his shoes again. By changing one single input, Deb helped her move her son toward the kind of independence she wanted him to achieve and she saved herself from a ton of anxiety in the process. She discovered how to align the right input with the desired output and was able to achieve the results she desired.

If there is a current situation or relationship that you would like to improve, follow the five-step process below to align the right inputs with the results you desire.

· Describe your designed output in the situation or relationship.You can’t chart a course to a destination if you don’t know where it is you want to go. Think of it like a GPS-the more exacting you can be with an address, the more specific it can be in prescribing the route to take (e.g. I want my team to be energized and engaged about the projects we’re working on.)

· Describe your current reality.Take time to accurately assess your current reality, to uncover potential inputs worth examining and possibly changing. (e.g. Team members come late to meetings and are anxious to leave, very few are enthusiastically volunteering for aspects of the projects, and several side meetings are taking place.)

· Carefully examine your current inputs.What things drive the current results you’re experiencing? Because inputs are not always intuitive, consider some of the following questions.

– What paradigms am I holding that might be limiting this person or situation?

– What am I saying or not saying that could be contributing to this situation?

– How would the people I work and live with describe my attitude toward them?

– What specific behaviors am I modeling (or not modeling)?

– Would I like me if I were the other person in the situation?

· Try a new and more effective input.Seemingly complex problems can often be dramatically improved by finding the one or two inputs that matter.

· Analyze the result.Everyone fails, but how we consider that failure can make all the difference. As the world-renowned leader and peaceful revolutionary Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Be objective and thoughtful as you consider the results you’re getting, and accept that with each trial and error comes an opportunity to get better.

Whenever we experience results we’re not happy with, there’s a strong chance that we’ve misaligned the inputs and outputs. And, while there are countless inputs that contribute to the outputs in our lives – assessing and realigning even one can be pivotal to our personal or professional success, such as repairing a ruptured relationship, restoring trust, and strengthening an even already solid relationship.

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