What does success look like?

This happens too often:

Employee has an idea for a new initiative (e.g. feature, workshop, hackathon, event storming session, newsletter, offsite, recurring meeting).

Manager: “That’s great, we support initiatives, let’s do it!”

Initiative happens; people participate; success is declared: “Initiative happened, lots of people participated, it was a success!”

Was it, though?

It’s quite often that we, as the initiator of some new idea, are so excited we are blind to its uselessness. In turn, our managers are so happy to hear new ideas from their people (as this can be rare), and they are so energized by our enthusiasm, that they support the idea by default, and will advocate for them practically blindly.

I fall victim to this myself, probably both as an initiator, manager of the initiator and beyond. I jokingly tell people approving things seems to be my most important role.

While I still feel a manager’s role should be to be an enabler more than a disabler, I’d like to add a bit of nuance to this. Some sanity checking, if you will.

How do we make sure we support the right initiative, and make sure they’re valuable?

I found asking three simple questions to be helpful:

  1. What important problem does this address? I use “important” purposely here: we have, perhaps sadly, an endless supply of problems we could we addressing, but are they important enough and worth addressing? In other words: given all problems that exist in our universe, is this the one to address, since there’s always opportunity cost?
  2. What does success look like? When can we claim victory? What is the expected outcome?
  3. Is the investment reasonable compared to the expected outcome? What’s the ROI? In addition to having to select a worthy problem to address, we also have an unlimited number of possible initiatives to address those problems. Let’s assess, for instance, if taking one day worth of work away from a certain group of people going to help us enough to make the desired impact?

If all these questions can be answered reasonably — let’s go. Otherwise… let’s think some more.

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