Impact > Program + System

Feb 25, 2011

Newcastle United

It's All About Impact

You don't need to be a fan of the 'Toon to understand that the impact of an adored (and occasionally scorned) team is about more than the score of a single game, or even the result of a season. Do you see the player above (on the left) about to kick the ball? He's like a workforce program. The system (his team) has cleared the field and made it possible for him to kick the ball into the goal, which he does. As a result, the 'Toon scores, winning the game, and the championship (see photo upper right).

But is that impact? Not entirely See all of those adoring fans? There are thousands of them. They will now shout and cheer and wear their NUFC stripes proudly. They will enroll their kids in football clubs (and maybe in the reading clubs the Team sponsors). They will buy season tickets. They will invite their friends to town to see future games game. And all will be right with the world.

This impact of that kick turns out to be far greater than the singel victory or the sum of the season.

The Workforce Development Game

This is a lot like what workforce development leaders describe when asked about the impact of what they do. They run systems and programs. Those systems and programs (largely) acheive their intended performance targets. But those targets reflect only a smidgen of the work leaders do everyday or the impact they have on their communities.

During our interviews, the subject of impact was as much a key point of pride for leaders who could articulate numerous significant achievements they had helped advance in their communities, as a source of frustration in that those impacts remain largely hidden from view, unreflected in performance measures or taken into account during contract negotiations. For leaders we talked to, it's not about the "credit," it's about the misunderstanding of the work that occurs when existing performance measures are assumed to reflect the totality of workforce development activity.

All those adoring NUFC fans and their families are akin to program partcipants who start new businesses, mentor their junior staff, support their children's educations, and becomes leaders in their communities, but who are assessed based on whether or not they acheived a single certificate in a single program year.

Three Things We Heard

  1. Local leaders, mayors in particular, seek results. They encourage other leaders and (workforce, education, and economic development) board members to focus on impact and outcomes, not just program compliance.
  2. Many workforce board members themselves also champion the focus on impact and outcomes, working with agencies, foundations, firms, and other community partners to align investments around strategic intent.
  3. Establishing shared goals and metrics that go beyond programs can help scale (and embed) broader community change. But the process matters as much as the metrics – if it's just an obligatory exercise tied to a pro-forma plan, the numbers won't mean anything.


"Metrics matter and they should be strategic – linked to a collaboratively negotiated community-wide strategy and owned by multiple stakeholders who can hold each other accountable. Then, they are powerful." – Sam, VP, Member Association