If We Can’t Do It Better, What’s The Point?

I love Apple. Those of you who know me, know this well. When launch time comes around, I’m always eager to see what’s coming next. One of the things that I love about the Apple approach is that they are always seeking to do better and be the best.

Sometimes, they do something that redefines what good looks like. In 2007, the iPhone didn’t just improve upon existing mobile platforms, it completely transformed the idea of what a mobile platform was and what it could do.

There’s something in the DNA of their organisation that compels them to do something only when they can do it best. Last year, they finally released Apple Music, after an age of speculation that they would move into the music streaming space. They probably could have done it ages ago. But they waited until they could do it best.

They don’t always get it right. The release of Apple Maps in 2012 brought about a landslide of criticism. The motivation behind the product was to move a giant step ahead of Google. Four years later, we can at least have a debate about which mapping platform is better. It’s been a slow and painful process of development, carried out in public.

The motivation to take a quantum leap sometimes means failing hard. But surely, ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?’

Do we have this drive to do better, to be the best in public service delivery?

Hedge your bets or raise the stakes?

We are in the middle of bidding season in the employment and skills sectors. Business development teams around the country are preparing their tenders. Are any of them preparing to offer a quantum leap? Something different? Something better? Or is the sector collectively preparing to offer another iteration of the same old, same old?

Sitting in a project board meeting for a client recently, we were discussing their performance offer for an upcoming tender. All of the relevant data was being considered: 1) comparative competitor performance 2) comparative in-house performance 3) commissioner expectations 4) operational resourcing 5) local labour market factors 6) characteristics of target customers, and so on. Senior business development, financial and operational people were all taking part.

I’ve sat in countless similar meetings over the years. I’ve watched them slowly run out of ambition and get embedded in messy compromise. Despite all of the best intentions of the people in the room, they can become an exercise in bet-hedging. We focus on what we’ve done before and what we are currently delivering. We obsess over what our competition might offer. Dare we match it? They couldn’t deliver that. Could we? Does it matter? They’ll still win if they offer it.

Discussions like this sap momentum and kill vision. My interjection into the conversation at this point was pretty simple. Two questions:

  1. If we don’t genuinely believe that we will do a better job than the competition, why are we bothering?
  2. If we are not genuinely seeking to help more people than anyone has before, why are we bothering?

It changed the direction of the conversation. Those two questions need to be posed more than once and in multiple contexts. They don’t need to impact on just one bid, but on the way that organisation does business.

If you are developing or delivering public services – be that an employment programme, skills provision, an offender rehabilitation service, a family intervention programme or whatever – I’d pose those two questions to you as well.

The numbers matter

I’ve been accused before (by people who weren’t hitting their numbers!) of putting too much emphasis on the numbers. My answer to that is that, in our line of work, the numbers are people. So the bigger the numbers, the more people we help, the more lives we change, the more social impact we make. Why should the government who buys, the taxpayers who pay and the citizens that use our services expect anything less?

If we can’t do it better, what’s the point?

What’s stopping your organisation from offering – and delivering – a step change?

Are you prepared to reach high and fail hard?

What can you do today to take a stand and insist on the very best for the people we serve?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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