Focus on ‘how’ before ‘how many’


It started with what appeared to be a trivial discussion about a metric.  My client had picked a key measure, the number of partner organizations.  Maximizing the number of partner organizations would help them achieve their top line growth goal.

Working harder wasn’t working

Progress was slow and they weren’t hitting their goal in spite of working hard.  They could work harder or change the goal.  Neither were good options.  They knew doing more of the same was a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

As we discussed the measure a consensus arose; it is valuable to have a large number of effective partner organizations.  They expand the reach of this organization and can share their message directly with the community they seek to serve.  So if partners are important and the current measure isn’t working, what is the right measure and goal?

What was the right goal?

We realized the most important question was how best to generate an effective partner?  The engagements to date were not delivering the expected results.  This question completely changed the context of the conversation.  We no longer focused on a goal of getting to X partners.  Instead, the focus shifted to learning.  They set a new goal to learn how best to engage and create highly effective partner organizations.

Start by figuring out how

In hindsight, this makes perfect sense.  First figure out how to do it.  Once you know how, shift the goal to how many.  To achieve the new goal they are designing experiments to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  Failure in this context is a means to achieve the goal.

When you aren’t getting the desired results, it is easy to fall back to the story of working harder and harder.  If you find yourself in this situation, stop and ask yourself if you have the right goal.  Are you better served by focusing on how and only then on how many?