A look down Downtown Kansas City streets today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is more general than Kansas City, really, but I’m finding that putting “in Kansas City” in the title of my posts tends to create a lot more discussion (and anger, but I’m a big boy). I’m thinking of it being the new phrase I add to the end of fortune cookie fortunes. “The dragon of opportunity also breathes fire… in Kansas City.”
I was thinking about this, because I see a lot of effort being expended in Kansas City, but I’m not sure I see all that effort producing many helpful results. This could possibly be a side effect of startup culture – the assumption that doing something is the same as improving or getting good results. It doesn’t matter if your business idea is sustainable or marketable, it only matters that you start it.
And I understand to a point. It’s a necessary corrective in an economy where people are afraid to start, disrupt, do, or finish. You have to get people past the initial hurdle before you can even talk about anything else, and that initial hurdle is usually starting. Doing something.
Unfortunately, this is where the conversation usually stops. If someone is doing something, we laud them for it. Well, ok, fair enough, but success isn’t defined by expending effort; success is defined by results. If I bust my butt trying to help developers get jobs, and I don’t get any of them a single job, that might mark me as having an altruistic heart, but it doesn’t mean I’ve been good for Kansas City (or whatever community you happen to be in). Nobody says, “The Chiefs are such an awesome team; look at how much training they do!” They want points on the scoreboard.
So, I’ve made a checklist for myself. It’s not comprehensive, but it does help me continually measure whether I’m actually making an impact in my community or just generating a lot of activity:
- Did I help someone get a job or create a job for someone to fill?
- Did I help a company increase their profits, lower their expenses, or protect assets that would otherwise have been at risk?
- Did I help people, in any line of work, deliver more value?
- Did I help a person or an organization who stumbled get back into the race?
That’s my personal scorecard in the Game o’ Improving Kansas City. This is not my scorecard for all aspects of life, but for measuring my impact in Kansas City’s economy, it’s a decent one. I put numbers to each of those and, most months or quarters, I can. And I’m just one person who is a relative nobody. Just think of what groups with actual money and clout could do.
As Eli Goldratt once said, “Tell me how you measure me, and I’ll tell you how I behave.” As you can see, a scorecard like mine drives certain behaviors, or at the very least, puts those behaviors in context. It allows me to identify low value and high value activities. It allows me to measure success.
So, in terms of impact, here are examples of the things that matter most:
- Hooking people up with job openings that are good fits or, secondarily, referring people to the extremely small number of recruiters that I trust.
- Helping an organization identify where their biggest gains would come from in terms of hiring new people.
- Teaching people skills that make them more marketable and/or enable them to perform better and deliver more value to their organizations.
- Turning around a struggling business.
Here are examples of the things that don’t have much impact at all:
- Creating or hosting “events”
- Meeting with like-minded people so I can continue to agree with myself
Obviously, I enjoy some the things on that second list and get value out of them, and they generate some value in their way, but in terms of measuring actual points on the scoreboard that impact Kansas City economically, they mean almost nothing.
Interestingly, when you look at the various entities trying to do this or that for Kansas City, we tend to be very good at that second group of examples, but not so demonstrably good at the first group. We’re very good at creating entities and generating interest and energy (and occasionally funding), but we’re not so good at actually delivering valuable contributions.
And lest I be misunderstood on perhaps the most potentially ire-generating point in this post: creating and hosting an event in and of itself is a very low value activity that helps nobody, except maybe the venue you paid to host it, and we create TONS of events.
Did your event create new jobs? Did it put people in jobs? Did it save any company any money? Did it help them make more money? Did it get capital to someone who needs it? Did it revive a failing business? Did it enhance anyone’s job security, marketability, or ability to deliver more value than they had before? If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, then your event made a positive impact in the community! Otherwise, it might have been a fun event, but the net effect of it was nothing. Lots of effort, no points on the scoreboard.
Like I said, our strength as a city seems to be talking, getting things going, building up buzz, generating motivation… we have a hard time delivering anything that actually changes anything.
So, my challenge to you, whether you are an individual or an organization that is trying to improve business in Kansas City, is this:
Don’t just start things; start the right things. You don’t need to plan all the details of your endeavor before you begin, but you do need to know what success looks like and how you’ll measure it. Spend your time on the activities that will generate actual impact as opposed to perceived impact. Change lives. Improve the economy.
I’m definitely on your side.