Owen McCall: 'Short-term gain, long term-pain'

Owen McCall: 'Short-term gain, long term-pain'

Often, we work really hard on a project and once we achieve our goal, the gains are short-term. Inevitably, organisational focus moves on, and the organisation rebounds back to the way it was. How do we break this cycle?

When I was young, I played rugby. The season’s pattern was always the same. I’d start the season overweight and unfit after a very lazy summer. As the season went on and I committed to training twice sometimes three times a week and playing a game once a week I began to get fitter and less overweight to the point that by the end of the season I would be reasonably fit and playing reasonably well. Then summer came and the pattern repeated. This continued until I got a serious injury which ended my playing days, ironically at the end of the season as my fitness was increasing!

The pattern didn’t stop when the rugby stopped however. I set a goal to run a 10k race some years later. I started out unfit and overweight. As my training proceeded I got fitter and lost weight and I successfully completed the 10K race. We continued on and set a goal to do a half marathon which we did. I can’t remember a time when I was fitter and felt better. However, over time, I reverted. Then a few years ago, I decided to ride the 100K flyer from Rotorua to Taupo to raise funds for my favourite charity at the time, StepUp.

The pattern repeated. I slowly reverted. The problem is each time the cycle repeated I ended up a little heavier and little more unfit.

My historic exercise routine produces short term gains but creates long term pain. It’s not just me though, this happens to everybody.

Maybe it’s not exercise, maybe it’s money and finances or maybe it’s relationships. Whatever it is we pretty much all do it.

Almost inevitably when the organisational focus moves on, the organisation rebounds back to the way it was and leaves the organisation as it was, maybe even a little worse.

Why does this happen? I believe it happens because we are conditioned from a very young age to be goal focused so we get completely focused on achieving the goal, running 10K or biking 100K which is fantastic but we neglect building the capabilities required to sustain the change, When I exercised I did it to achieve a goal but in focusing on achieving the goal I neglected to develop myself to be the type of person who exercises regularly. I achieved my goal and the n I stopped. I’d then set a goal and so the pattern repeats.

I believe that after all of these years I’ve learnt that if I want to be fitter (and healthier) it’s not actually about setting and achieving the goal it’s about redesigning the way I live my life so that exercise is a natural part of, and integral to the way I live my life.

As I do this I am finding that all my exercise goal s are naturally being achieved. It’s not just people, organisations do it as well. Organisations see an issue or opportunity and start a project to address the issue or take advantage of the opportunity. We work really hard on the project to achieve the goal.

If we achieve the goal (which is about half the time, but that’s a story for another day) the gains are short-term only. Almost inevitably when the organisational focus moves on, the organisation rebounds back to the way it was and leaves the organisation as it was, maybe even a little worse. What’s the answer? Don't use projects as the primary method of delivering change.

Instead, focus on building the capabilities you need to be the leading organisation in your field, or in our case, the IT team that the organisation deserves. This doesn't mean don't do projects but rather focus your projects on supporting your organisation and teams to build capabilities over time rather than achieving goals per se.

Read more: Customer obsessed businesses use co-location, strategy co-creation and hybrid skills: Forrester

How do you start? First, make a decision that your focus is on building capability over time and not on specific goal achievement. The n identify an appropriate model or framework that identifies the capabilities you need. If one doesn’t exist, then develop it yourself. This should not be needed, however, as there are plenty of robust models available for our industry. Don't worry too much about whether it’s the right one. They all have strengths and weaknesses but most of the leading frameworks are perfectly adequate. Simply pick one and lead your organisation to become practicing experts in that framework and those capabilities.

If you do this, you will break the cycle and your goals will be achieved naturally.

Owen McCall is director of Viewfield Consulting and a member of CIO New Zealand’s editorial advisory board. He can be reached through and through his blog at

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