When groups are steered without involving team-members with the broader objective, it’s impossible to achieve best results. HashingLife expert, social sector, Ruchi Dhona, explains how kids in a rural Indian village are discovering empowerment through simple management tools. Here’s a tip for the project managers in the boardrooms…
I often wonder why the importance of having a clear, well-defined objective isn’t emphasized upon enough. When I interact with the rural kids, I often allocate some tasks and responsibilities to them. And, just as when they are about to begin working, I ask them if they know why they are doing that activity. I mostly receive some sheepish smiles in response. Sometimes the silence would be punctuated with some quizzical looks – “Isn’t that a redundant question? We are doing this because you asked us to!”
When I was their age, I was probably thought the same way too, not thinking about the difference between objective and direction. When someone asks you to do something, it is only direction. But if you want to implement a direction properly, you need to need to know what the objective is. I think I had this ahamoment when I was interviewing with consulting firms. A popular interview tool is the case study method. This involves a business situation that you need to think about, a mock-up of a real life consulting situation. But before you dig deeper, you need to know of the objective; it’s that question that you solve for.
It is the objective which determines further course of action. If the objective is to increase overall revenue, increasing the sales would be your focus. It is a bonus if you can additionally save money by cutting costs, without investing any additional resources towards it, but it cannot be the prime focus of your exercise. However, if the objective were to increase profits, cost-cutting initiatives would take centre stage. Unless you got the objective correct, measuring the impact would be frustrating, often leading to the belief that you put in too much effort without creating much impact. This exactly is what goes awry with programmes aimed at social initiatives.
Most of us have contributed/ are contributing towards a social cause in some form – whether in individual capacity or as a part of corporate social initiatives. It is a definitely a feel-good act for all. I wish we also did a cost-benefit analysis for every single rupee invested in social initiatives. That we thought through the impact that every rupee or every hour of our contribution created. I wish we ask the question if our objective was achieved, or if there was something that we could do better the next time.
For me these questions come in the form of a choice – the choice between making 200 kids instantly happy by giving them chocolates, or of ensuring that one kid can attend a good public school far away from his village for a month. It is a tough choice, but my objective of creating a sustained impact is clear, so the decision comes by quickly.
Well, but what about the kids? They’re getting smarter too. They’ve graduated to asking me about the objective before I can ask them. Sometimes they surprise me by knowing without asking.