I’m a big believer in the ancillary benefits of a single big goal. Set a goal that has one clear objective, but as a result a bunch of other things have to change as well.
So one of my favourite Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) for an organization is to go paperless. I like the goal for all sorts of reasons. Much like a true BHAG it is is clear, compelling, and has obvious “finish line.” And while hard, it is achievable.
It has the benefit of potentially making the organization more “green” but, what I really like about it is that it requires a bunch of other steps to take place that should position the organization to become more efficient, effective and faster.
This is because paper is dumb technology. Among many, many other things, information on paper can’t be tracked, changes can’t be noted, pageviews can’t be recorded, data can’t be linked. It is hard to run a lean business when you’re using paper.
Getting rid of it often means you have get a better handle on workflow and processes so they can be streamlined. It means rethinking the tools you use. It means getting rid of checks and into direct deposit, moving off letters and into email, getting your documents, agendas, meeting minutes, policies and god knows what else out of MS Word and onto wikis, shifting from printed product manuals to PDFs or better still, YouTube videos. These changes in turn require a rethinking of how your employees work together and the skills they require.
So what starts off as a simple goal – getting rid of paper – pretty soon requires some deep organizational change. Of course, the rallying cry of “more efficient processes!” or “better understanding our workflow” have pretty limited appeal and, can be hard for everyone to wrap their head around. However, “getting rid of paper”? It is simple, clear and, frankly, is something that everyone in the organization can probably contribute an idea towards achieving. And, it will achieve many of the less sexy but more important goals.
Turns out, maybe some governments may be thinking this way.
The State of Oklahoma has a nice website that talks about all their “green” initiatives. Of course, it just so happens that many of these initiatives – reducing travel, getting rid of paper, etc… also happen to reduce costs and improve service but are easier to measure. I haven’t spoken with anyone at the State of Oklahoma to see if this is the real goal, but the website seems to acknowledges that it is:
OK.gov was created to improve access to government, reduce service-processing costs and enable state agencies to provide a higher quality of service to their constituents.
So for Oklahoma, going paperless becomes a way to get at some larger transformations. Nice BHAG. Of course, as with any good BHAG, you can track these changes and share them with your shareholders, stakeholders or… citizens.
And behold! The Oklahoma go green website invites different state agencies to report data on how their online services reduce paper consumption and/or carbon emissions. Data that they in turn track and share with the public via the state’s Socrata data portal. This graph shows how much agencies have reduced their paper output over the past four years.
I often say to governments “be strategic about how you use some of the data you make open.” Don’t just share a bunch of stuff, use what you share to achieve policy or organizational objectives. This is a great example. It’s also a potentially a great example at organizational change in a large and complex environment. Interesting stuff.