Means versus Ends

Here in the UK, Civil Servants are often, and perhaps at times unfairly, criticised for being more focused on, interested in and concerned about, “means” rather than “ends”.  What this means is that they are so occupied with process (the how) – it is claimed –  that they lose sight of the purpose of what is to be done, particularly in terms of actual measurable performance achievement.  Ministers often complain that their Civil Servants are constantly saying “this cannot be done” rather than “let’s be clear about what we are trying to achieve  and then let’s focus on how we can achieve it”.

A recent experience reminded me of this.  As argued in an earlier post, I consider Organisational Excellence is ALL about stakeholder focused performance achievement. Policies, processes, procedures, programmes, projects,  (maybe everything beginning with ‘p’!), are only important in so far as what they deliver in terms of performance achievement. This is a key lesson for those engaged in supporting the achievement of Organisational Excellence within their own or other organisations. From my observations far too many Quality professionals, (and my apologies to any readers who are these), focus solely on processes, ‘good’ management practices and so forth, without thinking enough about what they, or their organisation are trying to achieve in terms of measurable, stakeholder focused performance.  Surely it is far better to start from the point of what you are trying to achieve, and then ‘work back’ to identify how best to achieve it,  rather than simply adopting new ways of doing things because they seem ‘good’ and hoping that something might change as a result.

The old saying “start with the end in mind”  is a far better approach than focusing on “means rather than ends”!