What have horses got to do with business value?

You have probably heard the famous phrase: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said: faster horses”. This sentence has been put into Henry Ford’s mouth since the 2000s. It probably didn’t originate from him, but it fits perfectly with his Ford Model T, which triggered a revolution in transport and the manufacturing industry from 1908. This phrase is often used to emphasise that it is better to ask an expert.

I disagree with this for a number of reasons, see more on this later. In this article, I would like to use this example to illustrate the difference between output and outcome. These terms are often used in Lean-Agile courses. Output is the scope of services that, for example, an IT service provider provides according to the contract. Outcome is the proof of effectiveness that the customer must provide in the traditional service view based on the output: the value created.

If you ask people who have no experience with the agile culture after a training course what the difference is between output and outcome, they usually say that it is almost the same thing. Output is the basis, so to speak, and outcome is a kind of stardust on top of it. Yet the two terms are very different in essence.

Back to the year 1908: A traditional service provider asks the customer what he wants as a means of transport (output) and receives the answer “a fast, enduring horse”. The customer’s consultant tries to avoid grinning and then explains what is in his portfolio.

When a consultant for adaptive services asks what outcome the customer wants to achieve with the means of transport and the answer is: “I dream of a fast and enduring horse”. This horse vision is not perfect, but it is an alternative whose value can be determined. With the “fast and enduring horse”, value potentials can be identified. For example, the farmer can offer his products on more distant markets. With the value potential, alternatives can be put together and developed; whether the matter goes in the direction of the T-model is decided by further development.

This is precisely the difference when you traditionally ask for an output and do not encourage a discussion about the outcome. The reasons for this are manifold and can also be internal to the organisation if IT is only seen as a support function and people think they know enough about solutions from other sources. This means you have to live with fast horses.

I know ideas of “fast horses” well. It’s great when people dare to do this. If this turns into a discussion about values and proof of effectiveness, it brings to light a lot more suitable alternatives. This is where innovation can arise.

Kein T-Modell
Not a  T-Modell

Value outcome, not hours

In social media, I am always amazed to see that simple and unreflective appeals achieve high click rates. Some of them are already ancient, but they are re-posted every few weeks and get thousands of clicks. These platitudes are annoying and boring for me, but the attention economy of the social media loves exactly such calendar slogans.

One of the phrases is: “Employers, value performance, not attendance”. A great appeal, a wonderful topic to discuss. Furthermore, it is also very value-creating when companies take a serious look at it. For most companies, this means a profound change, which is not that easy.

When I see this prompt on my timeline every 14 days, I always have to think of many corporations and chuckle. I remember a conversation with a slightly younger unit manager. At the time, my team was known for its high efficiency partly thanks to Lean, Agile and Diversity, and I was often asked what was behind it all.

After such a talk, this colleague took me aside and explained to me how to achieve something in a corporation. It was a very great conversation, she has a very different perspective on the world than I do, but I really appreciate that she openly explained her approach to me. Here are the main methods of her “presence” strategy.

Always stay late, find a place in an open-plan office that is well visible to everyone. When the lights are shut off in the evening, don’t switch them on again, only light up your own workstation. Two LED desk lamps are ideal.

Always seek to get attention. Visit the executive floor, ask about appointments and attendance, take the lift exactly when the last executive meeting took place in the evening, mention in the lift that you are taking a short break and just get a drink from the vending machine on the ground floor.

When going somewhere, always have things under your arm, a booklet on which you can write something down with a pen is ideal. Against being bored, spread out a lot of documents on the desk, in between which you can hide some private reads. Even the private tablet doesn’t catch the eye in the midst of all the stuff.

She had a dozen more tips of this kind. Such methods were very successful in her company and I think this also applies to many other companies. As I said, not my world at all, but a very sympathetic conversation, I had to smile a lot and I have seen a different world view.

Now let’s evaluate the strategy “presence” and the alternative “performance”:

Imagine that in the next reorganisation, her name is tossed into the ring. The reorganisation is discussed by a small group of people who have access to hundreds of candidates. Her name comes up and most of the board doesn’t know her very well, but have a positive impression: “Oh, that’s the one who always stays so late”. In this fashion, the “presence” strategy conveniently finds many supporters across the board.

This is much easier than a matching assessment on the performance of hundreds of candidates. These performances must be transparent to the same decision-making body. Think about how many conditions have to be fulfilled for such a body to say by a vast majority: “Oh, that’s the one who always performs so well”.

One requirement is the mutual recognition and reference to each other’s achievements. “I could never have done it without the co-worker” or “The team was on fire towards success, I barely had to assist” and many more statements like this.

So, now we have something tangible for the people in team “performance”. Not just the hard-to-implement generic phrase “Employers, value performance, not attendance”. How about the appeal: “Give praise to a colleague in front of the whole team today!”

This can be practised in any company, regardless of whether it is a member of the “presence” team or the “performance” team. Even if the subject of “performance” is very well managed in your company, a little praise never hurts.