27 Nov Curiouser and Curiouser
The defining characteristic of a child like Alice through the Looking Glass
(or a good consultant or client or supplier) is always asking why. They are naturally curious and never stop asking why. This is important in business because it also helps us to be outcome focused.
I was speaking with a colleague about the example of not-for-profit organisations addressing homelessness. Is the outcome to do it efficiently to reduce administration costs? Yes it is. But why? Is this enough? Is it about funds to the front line, reputation for financial stewardship, productivity of workers? Yes it is. But why? Is it to get the biggest bang for the buck i e. Time and money spent on the target group? Is it to make it sustainable for multi-year impacts? Yes it is. But why? It’s because homelessness is a long term problem. It’s a cycle that is hard to break. It’s often tied into societal issues of family breakdown, domestic violence, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse etc.
Where do we stop asking why? Where do we set the limits of our change outcome? I suggest that we never stop asking why because this grounds us in the context for the outcome. It helps us to address the question ‘what’s the problem that we are trying to solve’. It helps us to judge whether our outcome is directed to the underlying issues or is just a ‘band aid’ solution (hence should we do it or not do it or do it differently). It is part of who we are. It helps us to know whether we are on the right track not just are we on track (e.g. to time and budget).
But we do need to set scope boundaries around our project outcomes. We aren’t often asked to solve complex issues like homelessness (although whole-of-business transformation is often complex and multi-year). We can’t do it all. We and our clients don’t always have the imperative or the appetite for big change. But it doesn’t stop us understanding the why behind the what. It doesn’t stop us understanding the how much. We must know what is sufficient for the outcome.
How do we judge sufficiency? Is it sufficient to improve organisation efficiency in this example? One way to judge is to use the language of ‘done trumps perfect’ (especially if perfect never gets done or has an opportunity cost on more important things). Or perhaps it’s ‘enough to make a decision’ (especially when creating momentum is important). Another is to know what ‘goodness looks like’ (so that good enough is not second best but is best for that purpose). In this example, it is legitimate to improve organizational efficiency for better service delivery and stewardship. This is an outcome which is both a means to an end as well as an end in its own right. It is OK to have interim or partial outcomes PROVIDED that we KNOW the why behind it and can measure contribution to the bigger outcome as well as monitor whether we are on track (and adjust if not).