Katie DeCarlo
Operations Manager

Burnout: a word with which, after eight years working for and with nonprofit organizations, I am all too familiar. But why? Is mission-driven employment inherently draining? Does a scarcity of resources always mean a staff stretched beyond reasonable means?

For a long time I assumed the answer to these and similar questions was yes. It took years, but a friend finally made the proper diagnosis: I had a bad case of input bias.

Defined by Wharton professors Karen R. Chinandera and Maurice E. Schweitzerb as the “misuse of input information in judgments of outcome quality,” input bias can be a major contributor to employee burnout. In plain terms, it’s the phenomenon that people think putting in long hours and sacrificing other projects translates into accomplishing great things. You can also think of it this way: in an environment where one’s dedication to the cause is often described by the number of hours contributed, teams can quickly join a race to the top – whether or not this time spent has any impact on desired outcomes.

Input bias is an understandable trap to fall into. Early in my career I developed a habit of staying at the office, regardless of workload, well past 6pm each day. I’d then join my colleagues in the rhetoric of “I’m so busy, so tired, so overworked.” It felt like I was accomplishing great things! In reality, I was just working myself ragged.

If this now sounds familiar, you too may suffer from input bias. The good news is: there’s a cure!

In this short video, Harvard Professor Francesca Gino provides four quick ways for managers to use data and performance management to clearly define success, and consequently, empower their employees to do the same.

  1. Don’t confuse effort with outcomes.
  2. Make sure your metrics are meaningful.
  3. Examine your incentives.
  4. Look at the whole picture.

Properly used, data can be turned into information, and information can focus teams’ efforts on the goals that matter. Your organization can know they gave their all – without having to hit empty.

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