August 31, 2010

Results driven improvement

I have mentioned the article Successful change programs begin with results by Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thompson before on this site (here). In that post, I did not link to the original article because I could not find it online. Now, I have found it (it is here) and I recommend that you, as someone who is interested in the solution-focused approach, read it. Here is what I wrote about the article in my previous post:

According to me, one of the most interesting management articles ever was written in 1992 by Schaffer and Thomson. To me, this article in its simplicity and results-focus was kind of like solution-focused change management avant la lettre. Their thought-provoking article was called 'Successful change programs begin with results'. I can't find a direct link to the article but here is a powerpoint presentation about it. Schaffer and Thomson call many change programs activity centered: the focus is on means and processes instead of on outcomes. Great effort is put in implementing programs, methods etc., like total quality management, reengineering and so on, in the hope that results will then automatically follow. The authors defy this logic. They claim that these activity centered approaches hardly ever work because the desired outcomes remain too vague, the change efforts are too large-scale and diffuse, and because means and goals are confused (the method seems to become more important than the originally desired outcomes). Schaffer and Thomson advocate a results-driven improvement process, which has the following characteristics:
  1. Organizations only introduce management and process innovations if necessary;
  2. Empirical tests show what works and what not;
  3. Frequent successes create new energy for improvement;
  4. Management creates a continuous learning process by applying lessons learnt in new phases.
I don't know if Schaffer and Thomson have written any other articles and books but this one is still very relevant and to the point. Let me know what you think.


  1. I'm viewing this as a Strategy versus Tactics issue.

    Focusing on Strategy (Results, Solutions) will get you where you WANT to go.

    Focusing on Tactics (Management) will improve your Tactics.

    Now, if you have Strategy without Tactics... the progress is slow. If you have Tactics without a proper Strategy you might get "Results" but they might not be the Results you want.

    My mind makes strange connections and I see a connection between this post and the following quote I received this morning:

    "It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. -Edith Hamilton"

    The connection is that the quote points to solution (the educated person). The best tactics to get there is to emphasize the solution and eliminate the obstacles that get in the way. You can eliminate obstacles by finding past moments when those obstacles were not there (past successes).

  2. Hi Peter, thanks for your thoughts and the quote. In order to be able to think sensibly about results it is necessary to have a good sense of how you would like things to become. In SF we speak of the desired situation or the preferred future. Without it, it is hard to determine whether something is a result or not. I think the article addresses this point well, by the way by stressing the importance of the difference between means and ends. this is the heart of the difference between activities and results.

  3. Or... the difference between being efficient and effective.


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