This is part of the Organisation Cultures series.

A Case Study

These numbers are for illustrative purposes only, with links to show that they are comparable with what some companies have experienced.

I am running a programme of work. It takes £150 million and 3 years to complete.

Is it successful?

What if I told you that the estimate was £156 million and 3 years?

Is it successful?

Does your answer alter if I add that that post-launch, the £1 billion revenue through that channel dropped by 10%? And revenue through other channels wasn’t affected, so it wasn’t a change in product. We have clear correlation and causation.

What about knowing that it took a further 2 years for revenue to get back to previous levels?

Or that the time to change went up by 200%, or 12 weeks?

Or that the cost of change went up by 300%?

What if I told you that you could have spent £15 million getting a much better thing in one year?

As a systems thinker, I prefer to have a wider view of a thing. And in this example, the wider view is valid. It’s essential when you are defining how you measure success.

In pathological organisations, I’ve seen what I can only describe as a collective organisational delusion for things like the above example.

Adults were covering their ears and saying “la la la I can’t hear you”, chanting “on-time and to-budget” as a mantra.

This wasn’t a good news culture, this was an “unable to face reality” culture.


You can try to do a blameless postmortem and apply the Retrospective Prime Directive.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

No-one sets out to achieve bad outcomes. People definitely might make sub-optimal decisions, because they aren’t equipped to know of an alternative.

But if people aren’t able to accept “OK, this is where we are, how do we improve it?”, you’re not going to make any progress.

Don’t bother sticking around – leave – find somewhere more fertile, that’s a kinder environment to work in.