Several weeks ago I was working with a wonderful client of mine who is recovering from severe burnout. He is doing much better, not all the way back yet, but making great strides. And we had an interesting conversation . . . he was really struggling with the idea of a new work-hour structure as he takes on a new assignment.

The church staff he will be serving on has a structured office-hour schedule—which is lighter than he’s used to. Actually, it’s healthier than he’s used to. And we were working through how he was going to adjust to this new work rhythm. Ultimately, we landed on the topic of hours vs. outcomes.

Of course, we need to put in hours to get good outcomes. But putting in hours doesn’t guarantee good outcomes. And what matters more—hours or outcomes? I hope we all answer, “outcomes.”

This was not the first time a leader has come to us wrestling with some form of this question, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for their team. We’ve interacted with more than a few pastors concerned that their staff “isn’t in the office enough.” Yes, we need hours to get the right outcomes. But what’s more important to you . . .  hours or outcomes?

As we’ve worked through this question with many leaders, three issues seem to typically emerge:

  1. Trust – Leaders ask . . . “If we’re not in the office 40 hours per week, and including work outside the office, working 60 hours per week, am I being lazy? Is my team being lazy?” I think at the core of this question lies trust. Do I trust God to do His part in the equation? The apostle Paul wrote: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Do I trust God will do His part? The trust issue isn’t simply toward God. Do you trust your teammates? Do you trust they’ll work diligently on the right stuff even when they’re out of your line of sight?
  2. Fit – Am I the right person in the right seat doing the right things? What about my team? You see, a person who fits this description rarely has to be motivated to work harder. Usually, they need to be told to slow down. A square peg in a round hole tends to need to work longer to get things done.
  3. Hours – What are fair expectations of myself and my team? My perspective for the last two decades has been this: your outcomes will prove whether or not you’ve put in the right amount of hours (and whether or not those hours have been focused on the right things). I personally would much rather manage outcomes than hours. I appreciate effort. I really do. But I appreciate good outcomes even more. If you can produce A-level work in 40 hours or less per week, more power to you. If you’re working 60 hours per week and producing C-level work . . . I appreciate the effort. But we have to take a long, hard look at how you’re approaching work.

A big question those of us who lead a team need to ask is, what do I care about the most? Hours . . . or outcomes? What matters more: Being in the office or being with people?

If I lead a church staff, isn’t part of our job not to be in the office? Rather to be in the field? I’ve heard of pastors who’ve required their student ministries guys/gals to stop spending so much time at the local schools and get into the office instead . . . and it makes me scratch my head a bit. Don’t we want our youth pastors to be on-site at schools? Yes they need office hours. But let’s make sure we’re thinking this through.

So how do we find middle ground here? Where does health reside when it comes to the subject of hours vs. outcomes? Here are three ideas I think will help us land in a desirable spot:

Idea 1: Clear, written objectives

Outline the desired outcomes. Add time constraints to these outcomes. Take enough time to define the win for yourself and for the team you lead.

Idea 2: A structured approach to work

Having a plan of attack for your work improves your chances that hours are spent in the right spots. Here is a podcast we produced on this subject. If you lead a team, I hope you spend regular one-on-one time with them. Part of those meetings should include discussion around how much time is being spent on the right things (and the wrong things).

Idea 3: Celebrate the right stuff

If you as a leader are always talking about how busy you are, what message do you think the team is hearing? What are you telling them is important? Instead of celebrating your workaholism, celebrate wins; good outcomes; how about this . . . celebrate margin!

Hours or outcomes? It’s your choice as a leader. But for me . . . managing to the clock is wearying. Managing to outcomes is exciting! If you need someone to unpack this dilemma with, we’re here to serve you.

Rooting and praying for you,