How Does Backward Design for People Stuff Make Leading Edge Sense?

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of th...
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Yankee baseball Hall of Famer  Yogi Berra (king of malapropisms but no relation to Abe Lincoln on the right) once said “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.

The same is true of most of the organizational stuff that you do that touches people in companies; figure out where you want to end up, and work backwards. If you don’t use this approach you may not get where you want to go.

That in a nutshell is the gist of something called backward design, an approach that has become de rigeur in leading educational circles, and should be your default way of operating when it comes to working with people for projects and teams (or anything else for that matter). Figure out the desired result(s), determine acceptable evidence that you’ve reached that result (like metrics and milestone or perhaps qualitative measures), and plan out out the experiences, knowledge, training, instruction that are need to perform to obtain that result.

More often than not people flip the sequence; they start first with activities (coaching, off-site, team building, recruiting, appraising, assessing, developing) and have some vague notion (hopefully – but not always) where they want to end up.

As noted in a post about off-sites “Leadership Team Building; It’s Not Mamma Mia,” a little forethought in a number of things goes a long ways. It’s not unusual for someone to book an off-site for 500, or a team building experience for 6, and fail to have in mind what outcomes they’re looking to gain.

Lincoln once said that “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 6 hours sharpening my ax.”

Using a simple and effective methodology like backward design ensures that what you want is more likely where you end up. Abe, it turns out, was on to something.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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