Friday, March 04, 2016

Don't let a focus on quick wins lead to slow losses

These days it seems almost everyone in government is focused on quick wins - outcomes that can be achieved fast, with limited resources but a big impact.

I recognise the logic. Going after low hanging, minimal risk, cheap and (sometimes) easy, quick successes satisfies both the insatiable desire for Ministerial media announcements and helps build trust within an organisation.

The theory is that a series of quick wins will lead to more freedom and resourcing to go for larger (and longer-term) victories, getting to work on projects that matter, changing lives for the better and improving real outcomes for citizens.

I saw, and continue to see, fantastic operators across government striving for that one more quick win that will convince senior managers or Ministers to give them greater responsibility, more resources and a chance to make a real difference. I get asked regularly by agencies for ideas or proposals that can be delivered fast, will have huge impacts while costing them almost nothing.

At times it almost appears like an addiction, "just give me one more hit of that quick quick win, then I will be respected and allowed to focus on the real game, the big picture."

Unfortunately this theory doesn't always hold up in practice.

Sometimes a series of quick wins is just a series of quick wins, with no scope for bigger, better or more effective things.

The Minister or Secretary's eyes may turn to you approvingly, and you may still be relied on when the chips are down, but this may only be when more quick wins are needed - when resources are tight, timeframes short and the wrong team in place.

If your quick wins seem only to lead to more 'opportunities' for quick wins, if your ability to overcome bureaucracy, internal politics, lack of resourcing and mediocre staff is recognised and rewarded by new projects ('challenges') with even less resourcing, more politics and bureaucracy with teams that can't work together - you're simply trading your quick wins for slow losses.

Eventually you may be put into a position where no win is possible, Keep in mind that failure is still remembered and 'rewarded' in most of the public service far longer than success.

So when you're looking for that next 'quick win' that will make management love and trust you, keep in mind that sometimes you'll have a bigger win by staying off the treadmill.

Yes quick wins, used strategically, can open doors for bigger successes, but that's not a given. Make sure the wins you're chasing will have broader positive outcomes than simply demonstrating your ability.

Focus on working on things that matter (to misquote the Digital Transition Office). Your wins will count as more than quick, they'll make a real difference, to the citizens you are serving, to the government and to you.

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