Why the Goal Tree is more and more relevant

Command and control management style, based on standardized work and centralized decision-making, becomes increasingly irrelevant as more and more business environments become highly variable and the number and pace of decisions to make soar.

What is required is autonomy and accountability as well as alignment on a well understood Goal. The Goal Tree is an elegant solution for understanding what is to be done as well as the underlying rationale, for communicating it and assessing the progress.

This post assumes readers are familiar with the Goal Tree, if not they may get into it through my articles on this subject.

The limits of command and control management

In a hierarchical organization there are mainly two practical limits to command and control management :

  1. The number of people who can be reasonably be supervised,
  2. The speed of decision-making when information has to travel up and down the management structure.

The more standardized and stable the work, the easier it is to supervise a larger number of people with tight control.

As soon as work can barely be standardized to the details and/or is highly variable, supervision has to give up tightness of control.

When reactivity is required, decision-making has to come closer to the interface where decisions are to be made, otherwise the process would respond way too slowly waiting for the information to travel back and forth.

That’s why tight command and control can still be found in mass manufacturing but would not work (at least the same way) for customer service or front office. There, more than just plain execution of tasks in standardized processes are awaited. Employee engagement is necessary to satisfy the customers, especially when some situations require to “walk the extra mile”.

There is a third limit to command and control management which is social acceptance. In developed countries with highly educated employees there is a strong expectation for empowerment and autonomy. People want to find a good balance between their own satisfaction and the effort they put to create value for their organization.

With lesser (mass) manufacturing and more services and knowledge work, which implies lesser standard work in the classic sense and more need for quick and numerous decision-making, command-and-control management is increasingly inappropriate.

Autonomy and accountability

Granting more autonomy is mandatory to cope with both the actual business challenges and social aspirations. Yet autonomy without guidance and a minimum of control may well lead to something totally different from the expected outcome, or even to chaos.

As control in the former way of command-and-control is no more appropriate, the best way is delegate the responsibility to the doers and let them take accountability. Formal control is then lighter, people are empowered but have to take the responsibility as well as the autonomy.

Accountability for results is the essential counterweight to autonomy. But instead of having constant control, someone frequently “looking over the shoulder”, there are periodic milestones checks, short meetings, KPIs and dashboards to monitor the performance and progress towards the objectives.

Sense of purpose

Autonomy, accountability, empowerment are not enough by themselves to engage employees. They have to understand the purpose of their work and endorse it. They have to understand the link between what is to be done and the higher objectives.

Having a lot of freedom of action but not understanding clearly “what for” will not bring satisfaction as it lacks the sense of purpose. In this breaks down for the intermediate objectives to be met and the string of actions: what for?

The Goal Tree for guidance

The Goal Tree is the tool that shows the Goal to be achieved as well as the whole rationale linking the Necessary Conditions (intermediate objectives that must be satisfied) to the achievement of the Goal.

As such it is a roadmap and a great communication tool. It is easy to read and understand, can be left on its own for people to read or can be presented.

The Goal Tree provides guidance. The links between Necessary Conditions and their goals, which are Necessary Conditions to other goals higher in the Tree, are all based on necessity logic. This reads “in order to have A, we must have/need B”. It is easy to understand, to follow and to convince oneself about the logical soundness of the whole.

In the daily autonomous work, when in doubt about an action to take or decision to make, it is convenient to turn to the Goal Tree and check if the action of decision is aligned with the Goal to achieve or is it contributing to achieve some Necessary Condition ? If the answers are positive, go for it, otherwise don’t waste time and resources on something not contributing.

A Goal Tree is scalable

But what is also great with the Goal Tree is that is scalable. A Goal Tree is most probably a Tree made of nested Goal Trees. One Necessary Condition to the global Tree is someone’s or some department’s Goal. Therefore the underlying Necessary Conditions constitute a lower ranking Goal Tree, and so forth.

Goal Tree

Goal Trees are likely to go viral as their “beauty” and easy of use convince more stakeholders to start their own one to get clarity on their purpose and set of actions to undertake.

Ironically, I “infected” half a pharmaceutical plant with Goal Trees simply starting to use it for carefully planning a small local project. As the people to whom it was presented liked the Tree and immediately caught its potential, they started asking me to support them building their own or even gave it a try without telling anyone until it was ready to be presented.

Why the Goal Tree is more and more relevant

The Goal Tree enables the organization to grant more autonomy to the stakeholders while providing guidance and monitoring. It satisfies or supports most of the requirements for being responsive to customers, quick in new developments, clear about the objectives and so on.

It is a very good supporting tool for any business in which command-and-control management style is irrelevant, and those are expanding. I do believe the Goal Tree is more and more relevant.

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One thought on “Why the Goal Tree is more and more relevant

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