Inputs, Outputs & Outcomes
3 Types of Key Results
Your Key Results will usually fit into one of three categories: Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes.
One technique we’ve found helpful is to be able to think of Key Results in each of these ways, then select the best one for your current needs.
This will help ensure that you’re accurately describing the type of change you want to see - the best benchmark on the way toward achieving your Objective.
Inputs are things that you can control.
The number of stores that open, relaunching a company website, reducing the weight of a component that’s manufactured - these are all Inputs.
- Example 1: To get our candidate elected, knock on at least 10,000 doors.
- Example 2: Test three marketing campaigns to renew subscribers to our service.
Some leaders focus on Inputs. They believe that if the right Inputs are manipulated, desired Outcomes will follow.
Outputs are the effects of your inputs. Increasing sales revenue, reaching performance benchmarks or attracting a certain number of attendees to a conference – these are Outputs.
- Example 1: To get our candidate elected, get 20,000 people to commit to voting for her.
- Example 2: Achieve a subscriber renewal rate above 63%.
Output KRs run the risk of looking like a task list. Effective Outputs embed actions within. Getting 20,000 committed votes implies a certain number of inputs such as volunteers needed, number of doors that need to be knocked on or a number of phone calls to make.
Some leaders prefer to state Key Results as Outputs because they make for clear markers. You either see the Output become a reality, or you don’t.
Outcomes are a more advanced way to think about Outputs. Outputs tend to describe the desired end result itself. Outcomes often emphasize the “before” and “after” more clearly than either an input or an output.
To clarify, let’s look at two sample Objectives and potential Key Results viewed through the lens of either being an Input, Output or Outcome.
Objective: Get our candidate elected.
- Input Key Result: Volunteers must knock on at least 10,000 doors.
- Output Key Result: Get 20,000 people to commit to voting for our candidate.
- Outcome Key Result: Our candidate wins more districts than they did in the previous election.
Objective: Customers value our service.
- Input Key Result: Run three marketing campaigns aimed at renewals.
- Output Key Result: Achieve a 67% renewal rate.
- Output Key Result: Increase renewal rates by 10%.
Outcomes are usually more complex than an Output. A good Outcome addresses the underlying challenge you are solving more directly than an Input or Output. This is why they can be so powerful. Crafting a great Outcome KR can require extra time for reflection, but the conversations they provoke are often the richest and most revealing. We think that increases a team’s chance at success.
Example 1 A hospital wants a reputation as the best in the region for orthopedic surgery, so it sets an Outcome KR to have “the most knee surgeries completed.” But if they want that reputation to be based on producing the best results, the more powerful Outcome Key Result might be to have “the highest percentage of people who can walk immediately post-surgery.”
Example 2 Silicon Valley unicorn Superhuman used an advanced Outcome to improve retention after realizing that customers who were active after 30 days had exponentially higher lifetime value. Reframing their retention rate target from Output to Outcome (“help customers through the first 30 days”) inspired product development and unmatched onboarding processes that have fueled their success.
Keep in mind, every OKR needs to clearly show an improvement over what you do right now. If an KR only describes what you are generating today and resembles a job description, it’s not an OKR. Try rewriting it!
Mixing it Up
There is no perfect “one-size fits all” formula for whether your OKRs should be all Inputs, Outputs or Outcomes. Many OKRs have a mix of all three. However, knowing what kind of KR you have may help you write a better one and make discussions about them more productive.
We all have “favorite” kinds of KRs. But the better you are writing all three, the more success we think you’ll see.
TO DO: Look at the Key Results you brainstormed in the previous lesson. Can you categorize them as either Input, Output or Outcome? If one is not clear, try writing it as an Input, then as an Output and an Outcome. Which one best helps your team understand what exactly they need to do to succeed?
Additional Resources & Further Reading
Going from Good to Better Part 1