Results-Based Development (Some Backstory on Goal Setting)

One of my biggest frustrations as an education professional (trainer, instructor, consultant, etc.) is that the standard “measure of success” is “Did the participant like it?” I do not suggest that participant enjoyment is not important, but “did they like it” is only part of the story. I would like to think that the “liking” could align with developing in an intended direction. For example, “I liked it because the skills and awareness were necessary for me to better perform in my role” rather than “I liked it because the facilitator was funny, let us go early, and we had a hot lunch.” Similarly, if participants didn’t “like it” what was the reason? Not relevant? Waste of time? Made me think too much? No clear tools? Sharpening the axe can take some time; maybe an axe isn’t even the right tool…

What to measure becomes so important. In the absence of any other measure, maybe “participant satisfaction as indicated by ‘smile sheets'” is acceptable and maybe we even set a goal accordingly. We could get some help from George Doran and employ the SMART goal framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). Mr. Doran’s helpful and memorable tool may create some unintended consequences.

Specific: Oversimplifying a situation such that the focus is on the “operation” and not on the “patient,” as in the dark humour of “the operation was a success, but the patient died.” We trained teams separately to keep a friendly atmosphere. Participants loved the “team building” sessions, but we still have turf wars between these two groups. Other examples could include, delivering a product that met the customers specs exactly, but seeing unacceptable margins.

Measurable: This orientation tends to push us toward what can be measured, which can dangerously skew attention toward distracting elements. E.G. We wanted to reduce customer complaints, but all we did was encourage front-line staff to accommodate ridiculous requests (which ended up costing us money!)

Achievable: This aspects needs much more context. Achievable to whom? What are the consequences of success or failure? If the latter has any connection to monetary reward, you can guarantee that “sand bagging” will ensue, more generously known as “managing expectations.”

Relevant: Again, to whom? In trying to increase relevance by attaching rewards to achievement, the sand-bagging danger rises.

Time-bound: This tends to drive the behaviour that the stages of the journey are discreet and independent. Winning the Tour de France is not necessarily about leading at every stage.

In an effort to establish goals that align the interests, I find myself up against three (at least) immovable truisms that I will explain here.

It is a journey not a destination: The long-game can easily get lost because it is so difficult to conceptualize. Let’s pick a direction to move towards and not worry too much about “what happens if we get there?” or exactly where “there” even is.

Anecdote – The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

If pinned down to an overall direction for his live shows, let’s assume that Prince would say he wanted to create an exceptional musical experience. Rumour has it that all musicians and back-up vocalists were encouraged to come and tell Prince when they had nailed their part, at which point, Prince would add to their task. The guitarists that mastered the base-track would get a dance sequence. The well rehearsed back-up vocalist would be given a percussion part. And if you nailed that, he had even more for you. The message being: good enough is never good enough.

Everyone games the system: Self interest is part of everyone’s psyche. It will kick in for different people at different times, but even the most principled and well-intentioned people will take advantage of ways to game the system. We must take extreme care in selecting measures because that will directly impact behaviour.

Work is not family (for everyone): Many will use the metaphor of a family or a community to describe an organization that functions with a healthy degree of trust and shared focus. For me, community is more realistic simply because it introduces the responsibility you have as a member of the community, but also leaves the door open to leave the community if you find another one that is a better fit. The understood permanence of the “family” connection means that your only choice is to make the best of it. This can generate a nice bit of commitment, but can also create resentment and guilt.

This critique of some common approaches to goal-setting and identifying some relevant “truisms” should provide some important rationale behind the “results-based development” approach explained here.