Redefining productivity by prioritizing outcomes over output

Goal Management
June 14, 2022

How do you define productivity? Do you look at the hours worked, the effort expended, and the exhaustion incurred? Or do you look at results? If you’re in the first camp, you might be measuring productivity all wrong. 

Prioritizing output has long been the traditional way of gauging employee productivity. But think about it this way: is the most effective person on your team the one who takes eight hours to complete a project…or the one who can bring about the same or superior results in half the time?

Don’t despair if you’re late to the “outcomes over output” party–but keep reading for a way of assessing employee effectiveness that’ll change your company for the better.

Burnout culture is on its way out

We’ve all been in careers where we felt a certain pressure to appear dog-tired from all the work we put in. 

Late nights and early mornings were glorified, and coming in on our days off was a badge of honor. These were habits we adopted to show our bosses that we’d work ourselves to the bone to hit company goals. We were expected to be grateful for the opportunity to wear ourselves down in exchange for a paycheck.

But there’s a major cultural shift taking place, one that places employee wellness and satisfaction above burnout. 

A record number of American workers left their jobs in November 2021–4.5 million, to be exact. These employees weren’t leaving the workforce; they were breaking up with their employers. And with 11.3 million positions waiting to be filled across the U.S., the unhappy and overworked have plenty of options at their disposal.

Long gone are the days when employees had to take whatever job they could find. And companies who want to minimize turnover and avoid staffing shortages would be wise to change how they gauge productivity.

A new take on an old concept

When we talk about prioritizing outcomes over output, we mean shifting the focus away from individual behaviors and onto specific results. In other words, as long as the job gets done and gets done well, your employees have fulfilled their obligations.

To put this into perspective, consider your own company work model, and ask yourself which components are necessary and which aren’t.

Do your employees really need to report at 9:00 am on the dot and remain glued to their computers for five hours before their first break? Or does that rule exist because that’s how it’s always been done? If an employee knocks out all of the day’s tasks by lunchtime, why are they beholden to run up the clock all afternoon?

The purpose of growing your team is to see improved results, whether it be to increase revenue, secure new clients, or expand your audience. None of these things requires a workaholic mindset to come to fruition, yet all of them can still be achieved when you move away from output-oriented culture.

How this shift in priorities helps your bottom line

Transforming your company in this way requires effort, and it won’t be easy to get everyone on board. You may even have doubts yourself. But when you consider the far-reaching benefits, both in the short and long terms, it’s hard to argue against redefining how you measure productivity.

Reduced sick days

Absenteeism is the bane of any employer’s existence. Employees calling in sick, using PTO at inconvenient times, or not showing up at all can throw a major wrench in your operations. 

If your staff has more control over when and how work gets completed, however, they won’t need to request time off nearly as much. Not only does this ensure that high-priority tasks are tended to on time, but it also means less revenue lost to employee absence.

Lower turnover rates

People stay where they’re happy, plain and simple. An employee with zero downtime, poor work-life balance, and a sense that the big bosses are always breathing down their neck is more likely to jump ship than the employee whose time and autonomy are honored.

We’re seeing this exact dynamic play out across the labor market, with workers ditching low-satisfaction jobs for positions that respect these employees’ inherent value. You want your company to be the one they’re running to, not from.

Enhanced productivity

Counterintuitive though it may seem, prioritizing outcomes over output can actually boost productivity.

The reasoning behind this is almost too simple: when you measure productivity by results realized, you’re looking for efficiency. The most efficient employee, therefore, isn’t the one who takes all day to get back to a top client. It’s the one who calls the client and makes the sale right away. But if your staff knows they’ll be at work for eight hours no matter how well they manage their time, what incentive do they have to work harder?

By adjusting your focus, you also adjust how your employees approach their job functions as a whole, giving them a reason to get you those results faster.

How to change your productivity metrics

If you’re convinced that this culture shift is in your company’s best interest, you need to take concrete steps toward reconstructing how you measure productivity. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Cut out busywork. Your employees should only perform work that’s directly linked to the company’s goals.
  • Be clear about results. Your staff can’t hit a target they can’t see. Let your employees know exactly what results you expect to see from the work they do, and be as specific as possible. “Increase revenue” isn’t nearly as helpful as “increase sales by 10%.”
  • Share timelines. It’s perfectly okay to give your employees deadlines, and in fact, it’s necessary. Setting a target date for when those aforementioned results should be achieved will only help your staff to manage their time appropriately and effectively.
  • Loosen the reins. You’ve simplified job duties, communicated goals, and implemented timelines. Now, trust your team to get it done.


Defining productivity by outcomes over output may feel foreign, but it’s one of the best ways to maximize efficiency and improve employee satisfaction. Particularly in the age of remote work and employee empowerment, can you really afford not to make this shift?

Martha Kendall

Martha Kendall is a freelance B2B SaaS writer who loves creating strategic blog posts that drive traffic and convert. When she’s not writing about marketing, you can find her petting fluffy cats and reading good books.