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The Value of Consequence-Based Thinking in an IT Organization

META Group research shows that 70% of IT organizations are still perceived by their business counterparts as cost centers, rather than as value centers. What can you do to improve these odds?
By Kenneth Moskowitz and Harris Kern, with special assistance from Mitch Fairrais and Blair Steinbach from OntheMark. Ken Moskowitz and Harris Kern are the authors of Managing IT as an Investment: Partnering for Success (Prentice Hall, 2002, ISBN 0-13-009627-X).
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Our definition of the ideal IT environment is one that's designed to exceed the enterprise's strategic goals while nurturing the individual to achieve exceptional productivity and job satisfaction. As other areas within the organization recognize IT's ability to understand and connect its endeavors to the true enterprise, it's more likely that these areas will be compelled to view IT as a business partner and trusted advisor rather than merely a service organization that their department has as a resource.

The technology organization needs to understand the desired consequence, the raison d'être of the enterprise, and where it requires us to be as an organization. Each technologist must understand where he is in the enterprise, and how he and his workgroup serve the enterprise.

Focusing on Consequences, Not Situations

The term consequence-based thinking means making decisions that are influenced and driven by desired consequences rather than limited by the situations you face. These are the hallmarks of an environment steeped in consequence-based thinking:

  • People no longer fear sharing ideas because they aren't worried that they'll be scrutinized as individuals based on how right or wrong their ideas are. They operate with the security that others will recognize that every idea put forward increases the odds of achieving the desired consequence. Every idea either becomes the next useful idea or leads to the next useful idea. Either way, every idea is valued and seen as useful.

  • People become very focused on the desired consequence. The energy in the organization becomes channeled to that end.

  • People begin to value the power of questions instead of believing that all the power resides in the right answer. More great questions get asked and ultimately lead to better processes and efficiencies that serve the enterprise.

  • Ideas are generated as the catalyst for subsequent ideas and the pressure of finding absolute solutions or final answers dissipates, enabling more and often better thoughts to flow with ease.

  • The hero mentality—"If I get the one idea that gets the right result, I'll be the hero and honored by my company or colleagues"—becomes obsolete and is replaced by a sense that we all play a role in contributing to an outcome. Great outcomes feel like shared victories.

  • People don't feel the pressure to go for 100% solutions individually. They can work toward the beginning of a solution, confident that the team will help hone the process to create the desired solutions.

  • The culture becomes one of accepting mistakes with the recognition that it's necessary to make mistakes in order to achieve success. Much more grace and dignity is available for human beings in such an environment. (With every attempt to create a working light bulb, Edison didn't see failures but rather recognized that he was getting closer to the desired end.)

  • When people become consequence-minded they become open to new processes to get to the desired consequence, versus becoming attached to the existing situation or current ways of doings things. They say, "How do we create this result?" rather than "What's the best we can do given the situation we face?" As they become less attached to their current situation or way of doing things, out-of-the-box thinking and solutions begin to become the norm.

  • The environment supports making decisions that are influenced and driven by desired consequences rather than limited by situations.

Typically the decisions people make and the actions they take are driven by a response to a situation. The situation defines and limits their view of the possibilities and they end up doing "what's possible," based on the situation.

Consequence-based thinking, on the other hand, insists that the desired consequence be the main driver of the decisions or actions, independent of the current situation. Decisions or actions are sought that will produce the desired outcome, as opposed to decisions that are justified by and viewed as making the best of a situation. As a result, consequence-based thinking creates solutions that are not limited by the situation. Creativity becomes necessary (and often apparent), resulting in the transformation of a situation into something completely new and different.

Consequence-based thinking comes from our Situation, Decision, Consequence model, pictured in Figure 1.

Figure 1Figure 1 Situation, decision, consequence model.

Essentially we propose that when people are faced with a situation they make decisions. Those decisions have consequences. The consequences then become the new situation.

Imagine a situation where your partner phones and asks you to pick up some milk on your way home from an evening out. It's late. You feel tired. Your fatigue allows you to justify the decision not to stop to pick up milk. The next morning you awake for your morning ritual of a big bowl of MegaPuff cereal, only to find yourself in a new situation of having no milk for your breakfast feast. Your decision not to stop for milk had consequences. Those consequences became your new situation.

People in any situation typically base their decisions on one of two things: the situation they face or the consequences they desire. Most people make the vast majority of their decisions based on the situation they face at any given moment. Far less often we make decisions aligned with creating the consequences we desire.

We believe that people who are more consistently able to make decisions based on desired consequences get more of what they want out of life and work.

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