by George Bradt
The end versus means tradeoff is not a new quandary. It’s been an ethical argument showing up in ideas like Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s been a political argument with people like Machiavelli arguing that, “in the actions of all men…one judges by the result.” It’s an ongoing leadership question in terms of the tradeoff between values and results.
It’s a false choice. Organizations that survive and thrive over time deliver end results with a strong, sound, sustainable culture rooted in core values and beliefs.
At one level, how to break the end versus means tradeoff is by refusing to make that tradeoff. At another level this requires two-track leadership. Lead what is required to deliver performance and end results. And lead culture in a way that no one will make unacceptable tradeoffs of means.
Carpedia’s Andrew Rush took me through their alignment process, which they call “the key to predictable and more profitable results.” At a high level, this includes:
- A Management Performance System (aligning the numbers in the business.)
- Behaviors (the concept of “Active Management” and “Active Problem Solving.”)
- Beliefs (focus on three values that drive the business and then “listen for them.”)
Management Performance System
As Rush explained, “First, you need to clearly define for your organization what the goal is this year. Once you have that, you need to figure out how everyone in your organization contributes to that goal. This needs to be as objective as possible. Everything that cannot be measured will have a marginal level of effectiveness.
As you do this, you will naturally go from a high level, singular goal, into smaller goals. Your time horizon will go from indicators that you can measure on an annual basis, to monthly, weekly and then hopefully daily. You will have different measures in sales, marketing, accounting, operations, etc. that will all mathematically align to the overall goal.”
Another way to think about this is in terms of cascading priorities, managed with different time frames at different levels of the organization:
Strategic Priorities — multi-year impact — track and adjust annually or quarterly.
Programs — that move the strategic priorities forward — track and adjust monthly.
Projects — that make up the programs — track and adjust weekly.
Tasks — that make up the day-to-day work of the programs — track and adjust daily or more frequently as appropriate.
Carpedia suggests these result from Active Management and Active Problem Solving. Rush explains Active Management as, “Once you have defined what the goal is and made it clear to everyone how they contribute to that goal, you now need a cadence by which you communicate it throughout the organization and follow up against the aligned plan.”
Rush told me that, “When the follow up is done, there will undoubtedly be times when variances to the plan are uncovered. How leaders analyze these variances and remove problems, so they don’t occur again in the future is what we call Active Problem Solving.“ This goes to how you’re going to adjust behaviors as you track priorities, programs, projects and tasks.
Rush explained that, “As a leader, you have to identify the three most important behaviors that are going to drive your business forward and make these part of your core values. Once established, defined and communicated, you now need to “listen for values”. In every conversation that you have with your employees you need to listen on two levels; the first is for the exchange or information, and the second is what is being conveyed done in a manner that is consistent with your core values.”
Another approach to this is to be clear with all what policies and core values are mandatory, bedrock and unchangeable and what guidelines or guiding principles are open to interpretation or evolution. Sustainable alignment happens when all know their own ends, the impact of those ends and the effect of that impact on others – and when they know which policies and values to follow and which guidelines or guiding principles to evolve.