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At this time of goal setting and new year resolutions we often face a problem. We set a goal or objective, (stop smoking, make more money, lose weight, change job, etc etc) and within a few days or weeks, the goal has been dropped. Good intentions melting away like snow when the sun rises.

Good intentions have been sacrificed on the altar of expediency and reversion to existing practices and patterns of behaviour (I’ll just nip to the fridge, have another cigarette, etc).

The problem is often that we have put our attention on the end rather than the means.  This is an important distinction that military strategy thinkers make.   It is far more important to concentrate on the change that is required in behaviour rather than the goal. Its about how we behave on a day to day basis (walking instead of using the car, drinking some water instead of heading for the fridge, eating consciously rather than whilst reading a paper).

This is true for organisational goals as much as individual ones. Think of the organisation’s strategy as a persistent pattern of behaviour. It is this persistency of behaviour that is creating results. Therefore to change strategy you don’t simply change goals – you have to address the behaviour and ensure the new behaviours persistently replace those of the old strategy.

This is one reason why the learning and growth perspective is so important in the balanced scorecard. It is about identifying and then signalling to the organisations that behaviours need to change. Then actively ensuring that the new behaviour is encouraged and the old ones are dropped. I use the expression “permission” at this point. People, individually and in their social groups, have to be given permission to drop existing behaviours – ones that might have served them well for a long time, and be allowed to use, and learn how it feels to use, new ones.

Take flexible working and working from home, for example. The idea has been around for ages. the technology is readily available and has been available for ages. It is not a constraint. No, the constraint is often the reluctance to let go the command and control associated with “trusting” people to work. It is no longer about time served, but tasks achieved. The staff of the Director magazine tried home/flexible working and were surprised how hard it was to let go of the existing practices. In the same edition they interviewed Steve Shirley (Dame Stephanie) who set up FI in the early sixties so that women with children could still have a career in computer programming and yet work from home. As she put it, the issue is as about trust and control. People have to learn new behaviours and norms. The objective is not to have people working from home, but to learn new ways to help people be productive by trusting them and giving them the chance to use their time to in the most appropriate way.

Sure, think about the end, but concentrate on the means. And signal that new behaviours are acceptable, appropriate and now the expected norm.

Phil Jones