Peter Drucker on Outside vs. Inside Results

By John Pearson

Bloggers, apparently, misappropriate almost every life event as fodder for the next blog. (Guilty!)

So when I saw an airport hotel sign last weekend, it cried out to me, "John, here's your next blog topic!" Below the hotel name, the big reader board announced:


It reminded me of an important insight from Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005), the father of modern management. Good governance mandates attention to Drucker's counsel.

In 1986, Bob Buford and Fred Smith at Leadership Network invited me to a week-long summit with Peter Drucker in Estes Park, Colo. Drucker held court all day with about 30 Christian leaders. I'll never forget his insights on outside results versus inside results.

If a hospital, he said, focuses on keeping the nurses happy (inside results) but neglects the care of patients (outside results), the patients will all die and the hospital will go out of business. He acknowledged that it is good to keep the nurses happy. But when an organization focuses predominantly on inside results (administration, maintenance, policies and procedures) rather than on outside results (mission, customer, sales, donors, recipients), it is on the path to failure.

strong Alert board members will look for signs of an inappropriate focus on inside results. So what is being touted in your newsletter—inside or outside results? When you casually ask your CEO, "How's it going?" does he or she enthuse about the new and faster computers—or changed lives? Do donor appeals raise funds for a new 12-passenger van—or the discipleship initiative?

The hotel manager, I'm guessing, is an inside results guy and there are at least two problems with his sign:
1) When the big reader board does a shout-out to prospective employees, it misses the opportunity to highlight its unique features to prospective customers. "Free Breakfast! Free Shuttle! Third Night Free!"
2) And worse...when you use prime promo space to announce you're short of housekeeping and laundry staff—count me out. I'll pick a cleaner hotel down the street.

Is it time for a quick “results audit” in your organization? Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results? What you talk about—and what you measure—matters.

But before you rush off to prioritize outside results without spiritually discerning which results are truly kingdom-focused, read the counter-intuitive wisdom in The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer:

“The key to grasping eternity-oriented metrics is realizing that the quantitative is subservient to the qualitative. Could this be why the modern church has so many professing Christians
and so few disciples of Jesus Christ?”

QUESTION: Does your ministry tilt more towards inside results or outside results?


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.