Excellence, Part 2: Bad Things Happen
Looking through `Excellence, Part 1´ (and reflecting back on ‘Please shut your marketing mouth´) I wonder how many programmes really care about how good their SGs are. Paul put his finger on it when he said ` professions have very high standards and very low tolerance of failure, and those who fail have to leave the profession.´ Wow! A revolutionary thought on Savings Revolution!! I jest. I think that maybe half of our programmes have high standards and a low tolerance of failure. Most others, I think, subscribe to high standards, and don’t really worry that much if they fall short - or if, here and there, bad stuff happens.
OK, bad stuff does happen. It can’t be prevented. But it CAN be minimised. One of the things that drives me crazy (not hard) about lots of savings group programmes is how negligent we can be. Not in terms of showing up at the meeting and following the training modules and supervision schedule, but how often Field Officers actually don’t notice when things go wrong (why would they? The Supervisor only visits once a month and only then if it’s not raining). I would say that about 50% of the groups that I visit with a Field Officer or Village Agent have some pretty obvious stuff wrong with their records, but, as someone once said to me, “The numbers don’t matter: the people are happy with their group.” (Yup, a genuine quote). Au contraire, it DOES matter, but often implementation and tracking is focussed on whether or not someone completed an activity (as nominally as possible) and hardly ever on the result in terms of efficiency, safety, transparent procedures and systems and very high standards of basic expertise. How else can you explain that it’s a pretty unusual programme that bothers regularly to share MIS results with front line staff? And implementing organisations don’t have bottom lines, so a pathology of`it’s good enough´ emerges, because there are targets to meet, sexy innovations to be tried - and limited consequences (for the staff) if group quality isn’t that good, or if supervision is pro-forma.
Another reason why I think that quality (and therefore safety) often suffers is that a collective preoccupation with cost seems to have the industry by the throat (I don’t know why. Banks would kill to only spend $20 per client, so trying to get it down to $10 is to focus on exactly the least important thing). When you realise that good groups spin off another couple of groups within two years (at no cost to a programme), spending enough to do it right in the first place (and knowing what that means) is far more important than turning on the afterburner and crisping everything to the rear. There is a sweet spot where cost and efficiency are optimised, but, until we know where that is, shouldn’t we visit a couple of times too many (and spend the time effectively while we’re there) than save the cash because we have a productivity target to fulfil. As a result, far too few programmes have group quality standards (probably because donors don’t seem that interested) and I think that’s quite telling. Targets, not results, are King, so maybe it’s time to scrap the Monarchy!