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Great learning experiences are based on outcomes, not outputs

Juliana Stancampiano
Oxygen CEO & Author
Knowing the difference between an outcome and an output is a crucial aspect of designing effective learning experiences.
January 28, 2021

Most of our clients and colleagues come from businesses with big, audacious sales and learning targets. But translating these strategic goals into cross-functional and achievable steps for their organizations and employees is a struggle.

More often than not, targets go unmet – but not for lack of trying.

There’s a disconnect between the people setting the strategy and the many other groups responsible for tactical execution against company goals.

For example, leaders might set a goal of exceeding quarterly revenue year over year. But does this goal take into account what individual sales and customer support staff will have to do to exceed the old quota mark?

Because of this disconnect, the Oxygen team spends time with our stakeholders to agree on the business outcomes their initiatives will drive. These outcomes serve as our cardinal directions. Then, as we start to discuss what employees and teams need to know and do to be successful, we talk about essential outputs.

This distinction couldn’t be more important.

We define an outcome—regardless of client size or industry—as a specific, measurable, business result. Outcomes are achieved through a set of behaviors, skills, or capabilities.

In comparison, an output is a tangible deliverable—a slide deck, a storyboard, an email or email campaign, or even a whole set of assets that make up a curriculum. In almost all cases, success of the business outcome depends on the completion of many different outputs.

But too often, companies don’t take the time to map the connection between outcomes, capabilities, and outputs.

That’s not to say that no one is busy—quite the opposite. Typically, this disconnect results in more work than is necessary.

Put another way, when leaders or project leads don’t take time to figure out which outputs drive which outcomes, employees end up with an experience that feels messy and random. Their days and weeks are occupied with last-ditch efforts and fire drills, and this is a waste of time and money.

Since this “just-in-time scrambling” is part of the new normal for many people, taking the time to connect outcomes to outputs can feel revelatory. Agreeing on the outcome up front helps us make decisions about priorities.

As learning experience designers, if we’re having a discussion about making an animation for an eLearning and doing it in color costs more than black and white, we ask: will this serve the outcome of getting the audience relevant content fast? If the answer is “Color is great, but black and white is cheaper and it will reach the audience sooner, with the same content,”then the decision is made—no color. Maybe add it later, in a second version if warranted.

Paradoxically, doing the upfront work to define outcomes feels different, freeing, and modern. We hear it from clients all the time.

For her book title, Oxygen CEO Juliana Stancampiano chose the word radical to describe what it feels like to work with clarity toward these strategic goals. She wrote:

Radical Outcomes are tied to complex, high-stakes initiatives that yield tangible results. Examples include increased retention rates, improved acquisition rates, increased revenue, reduced costs, process improvements or efficiencies, increased profitability, increased word of mouth, increased conversion rates, and more up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.

Learning, enablement, and sales professionals can validate that they’re working toward outcomes by applying this framework, which Stancampiano explains further in an article for StrategyDriven, to evaluate them.

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Book Overview: Radical Outcomes

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