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Input and Output – The Human Mechanics of Work

In work, how much focus is there on input as opposed to output? Jobs and projects are often defined by the number of hours that must be worked, where and when they must be worked, the personal qualities and experiences that are required to be inputted and so on. By defining such matters at the outset, there is a sense that this will inexorably lead to the desired result.

Time and Motion

A prominent human time-motion study was carried out by Frederick Taylor. An employee’s work in a factory would be timed with a stopwatch and from that the output would be calculated. Human beings were treated as automatons and indeed much of the manufacturing work done in Taylor’s era would be done by machines today. There was an emphasis on control within strictly defined limits with no flexibility for a person to manage their own input in the way that suited them and their lives in order to reach the same output destination.

Start at the destination

Output is crucial as it is how we define and measure attainment and how we tackle the bottom line of making money.

Begin with the end in mind.

Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

This method requires having a clear, overriding vision of what the outcome should be and then crystallising that into a useable set of statements. If you have an output mission statement, the question arises as to what extent you need to control input.

Job descriptions

The most immediate way of controlling input is through a job description which refers exclusively to inputs rather than outputs. Many such statements also contain a plethora of attributes that may not actually be required for the job in hand.

For example, “outgoing” may be used as recruiting requirement for new employees. But if a person is working from home on invoicing with little direct human contact, is “outgoing” really an absolutely necessary quality? The output is that a certain number of invoices need to be processed in timely manner. If that is fulfilled, the intended outcome has been reached. The employee concerned may indeed be an introvert or someone who is neurodiverse but who thrives on procedure and steadily gets the job done well.

Monitoring

Getting the most out of employees and hitting targets is an art form, with styles ranging from micro-management to complete laissez-faire. By focusing on the output, however, a worker has more freedom about how to reach the point of success.

Clearly some sectors are, of their nature, regimented. NHS nurses and those operating customer service helplines must be present at certain times and follow defined procedures. But a more nuanced approach can be used to effect where there is scope for autonomy.

For example, if you need a project to be completed in a month, is it necessary to dictate exactly how it is done? A person can work flexibly to suit their needs, doing the work later on in the evening, at home, or whenever is convenient. Obviously, the worker would need to be available to participate in relevant team meetings and would need some supervision along the way. But checking in on whether the work is being doing correctly is not the same as checking up how the employee is doing it in terms of personal time management and working strategy.

Mechanisms

When it comes to machines, we have chemistry and physics equations to help us determine precisely what goes in, when, in what proportions and what should come out. Humans are rather more complicated, approaching matters according to their personal characteristics, commitments and lifestyles. When it comes to people, different inputs can create the same output. With that in mind, it’s now time to take the “output challenge” and review how we recruit and manage people