29th March 2011

Doing The Right Thing At Work: What Makes It So Hard and What Can Be Done?

Carole Howells, Phil Jackman & Lesley Cairns

Peter Drucker, the late great student of management, made the insightful distinction between efficiency – doing things right – and effectiveness – doing the right thing.

To be successful, both matter, of course. Yet far more attention, on the part of managers and commentators, is given to efficiency. We’re much more likely to explore how something can be done quicker, or in greater quantity, or at less cost than ever we are to raise the question of whether it should be done at all. As a result, we frequently fall into the trap distinguished systems theorist Russell Ackoff used to describe as, ‘doing the wrong thing righter’. ‘The righter we do the wrong thing,’ he would say, ‘the wronger we become.’

Why does it happen? What are the implications? What can you do to redress the balance, focus yourself and others on questions of purpose, and face the challenge of doing the right thing?

On the 29 March, we heard from three individuals who have grappled with this challenge:

  • Carole Howells, former Chief Executive of Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service
  • Phil Jackman, Head of ICT Services, Durham County Council
  • Lesley Cairns, Innovation and Transformation Delivery Manager, School Food Trust

They told us what doing the right thing means to them, the challenges they’ve faced, the strategies they’ve employed, and the results that have followed, both good and bad.

Then, working together we explored the question of why it’s hard to do the right thing at work and what can be done about it. What’s stopping you right now?

What participants said…

“I really enjoyed your last session and the speakers were excellent.”

“I thought the morning presentations were very interesting.”

“Was, as each event I’ve attended has been, time well spent.”

“8 [out of 10] is a very good mark from me and reflects how enjoyable the session was and the speakers were excellent.”



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