Are You Failing by Doing the Right Thing? [ARCHIVE]

Originally published on the Shirlaws Business Coaching Blog, 2007-2010.

I’m a big fan of the TV show House (that’s House M.D. for my US cousins). There was a great line on the show a few weeks ago, surprisingly not directed at the main character, about the difference between “saving patient lives” and “doing the right thing”. In other words, sometimes in a hospital the need to ‘do the right thing’ comes at the expense of making calculated choices that could save lives.

Reading another article today, which we’ll get to momentarily, the relationship between this comment and many businesses popped into me head. After all, in a hospital the patients are the target customer*, and saving their lives is surely an analogy for giving the customer what they want. It’s also an outcome most customers would gladly pay a premium for. I wonder: How many businesses are focusing on doing the right thing, rather than saving their customer’s life?

(* Actually, Insurance companies are probably the target customer for many hospitals in the developed world. That’s probably why ‘the right thing’ isn’t always the same as the life-saving thing.)

The article I came across was this overview on the 7 Levels of Change.  (As a note to many Shirlaws clients, this is not related to the Awareness / Acknowledgement / Choice framework for change that we sometimes apply – the Levels discussed in the article relate to developing a strategy having already made the decision to change.)

This article and the related book put forward what seems like a comprehensive step-by-step guide to implementing change in a business. My reaction, however, is that it seems too formulaic and restrictive. For example, it’s not until Level 6 that you are encouraged to ‘Do things no one else is doing’. Now I have worked with more than a few businesses where doing something different was an imperative, there was an opportunity now and they seized it, and it certainly wasn’t because they had already completed Levels 1 through 5.

The example of Apple in the 1980s comes to mind. They didn’t focus on Level 1 ‘doing things right’ or Level 5 ‘doing the things other people were doing’ before they launched the first Mac – they saw an opportunity to do things differently and jumped into it with the resulting success.

On further reflection, however, the Apple example perhaps brings me back to my point. More recent successes in the iPod and iPhone are certainly next generation devices, but they are more closely related to a multitude of similar products than the Mac was. They show Apple more closely following the 7-Level process, doing the right thing and then eventually doing something different, and benefiting because of it.

In other words, if you are looking to make some changes in your organisation, you could learn something by going here and understanding the process described. For many businesses, maybe yours, this process would be ‘doing the right thing’ and you would benefit.

But don’t forget ‘the right thing’ is not always the best thing. Don’t let ‘the right thing’ prevent you from taking a chance that might pay off.

Have you taken a chance that’s paid off in your business? Other readers (and I, of course) would love to hear – so please leave a comment.

And are there some businesses where this thinking never applies, and doing ‘the right thing’ is always best?

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