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Now prove it

I've always wanted to make a difference.

By which, I mean, I've always endeavoured to contribute, personally and professionally, in ways that make things 'better' for others. I know where that aspiration comes from, but that's for another day.

My musings today are about 'impact' and, more particularly, how we can prove that we're making the difference we seek. The dictionary offers two definitions of 'impact':

  1. "the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another"

  2. "a marked effect or influence"

We're talking here about the second meaning, but the two together offer a powerful reminder that, no matter how well-intentioned an action may be, the result can still be a car crash. Just ask anyone caught up in the A level omnishambles.

Do or D-I-I-I

These are testing times for governance. In a world where we're all equally feeling our way, we need to be able to rely more and more on evidence of impact. Action tends to be better than words, but that can't be true if the action is adding little value or, worse, doing harm.

There's a continuum from data to information to intelligence to insight. As a serial Board member, across sectors and in both executive and non-executive capacities, I have reached the uncomfortable conclusion that I've seen a great deal of data, limited information, next to no intelligence, and... you get my point.

The thing is that you can't prove the hypothesis - that a course of action makes the positive difference that is intended - unless you have intelligence and insight. You can't make decisions (that process of debating options and reaching a conclusion) or take decisions (that moment in time when you agree to do "this") without analysis and interpretation.

Reassurance ("don't worry, it's going fine") has its place but must never become the bedrock of governance. Trust among decision-makers is vital and valid - until the first time a promise is unfulfilled or an assumption is found to be incorrect. What Board members need is assurance ("I know it's fine because I've seen the evidence that proves it is") - as from that comes transparency, good stewardship and higher quality decisions.

No more

One of the great tests of leadership is knowing what not to do. What to stop doing. As an example, I've reflected previously about the disinvestment decisions that Trustee Boards are now having to contemplate, perversely just when third sector services are most needed.

The reality in any setting - publicly funded, privately owned, or donations driven - is that you can only spend every pound once. For charities, it's no longer enough simply to tell potential donors about the difference that £30 can make. We're now in the territory of having to describe to donors what would happen if the £30 wasn't available - and it's not easy to prove a negative.

Around a Board table, leaders need to understand the relative merit of one spend over another. And that's where fact trumps opinion every time*.

Why not?

Board or organisational culture is shaped by consistent behaviour over time. And team behaviour is itself merely a fusion of multiple individuals' values and style.

Which leads to today's call to action.

Good governance and impactful action start with YOU. How you make others feel; how you listen, counsel, mentor or coach as the situation demands; how you demonstrate integrity and compassion; how you challenge constructively, not to score a point; how you find the balance between perfect being the enemy of good, and good not being good enough**.

In the months to come, perhaps more so than ever, it will be intelligence, insight and basic, core human decency that will deliver the best impact. Thinking outside the box and refusing to accept the norm have already become part of #TheNewNormal.

I never need an excuse to quote the great Robert Kennedy:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?


* My apologies for having "trump" and "fact" in the same sentence.

** That last one isn't easy!

#ToThePointTuesday – shorter posts that offer an opinion to stimulate thinking

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