The journey to the future of social, organizational, and individual performance: a migration from how to what to why

by May 6, 2020Managing People & Organizations, Performance Management

The best way to predict the future is to create it.
Alan Kay, Peter Drucker

Our future is bright if we create it and seize it. We can move from “how” to “what” to “why,” and integrate them all to define and deliver useful results. While most of us now apply our talents to workplace problems, this should not, even must not, stop us from also adding value to increasingly wider venues. Here are some possibly useful insights about our profession and how we might create a bright future.

Our profession has morphed, slowly but steadily, from a focus on “how” to also include “what” and “why. Earnest contributions have come from “two-men-on-a-log,” to flash cards, audio-visual instruction, slide and overhead projectors, and then to instructional design and development, to programmed instruction, to computer-assisted learning, to distance learning, to biological bases to learning, to artificial intelligence, and perhaps to robotics. Outstanding research on how people learn and perform is ongoing and holds tremendous promise. The current emphasis in practice is on how to learn and perform.

While all this was evolving, there was also a concern for and development of defining purpose: performance objectives, formative and summative evaluation, program evaluation, and a form of strategic planning, all focused on what to learn, perform, and do within any organization — a movement from the focus on means to include a focus on ends.

Also evolving were concepts and tools, such as Mega thinking and planning (Kaufman,1972, 1982, 1998. 2011), that have added a focus on why we do anything in the first place—that is, migration from how to what to why. It seems a bit obvious that one would best prove that one’s organization and resources were really required to add value to all internal and external stakeholders world-wide rather than rushing off to solve an immediate problem only to find it wasn’t important.

Reality is not divided into agencies, departments, schools, colleges, or models. We must return to holistic thinking — to a total societal system — and not just a focus on systems, pieces, and parts. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Mega is based on an ideal vision, a vision of creating, together, the world we want for tomorrow’s child (Kaufman, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2011). Even ancient philosophy tells us that without vision, the people fail (Proverbs 29:18, Old Testament, King James Version). Let’s not fail because of a sole focus on one subsystem or another and not on Mega. Engaged people — self-actualizing people — perform better than those unconnected to common purpose.

Let’s turn now to considerations on the defining, documenting, and validating why we do anything (i.e., purpose), for that is central for transmuting our profession as we move ever closer to Mega, For years I have proposed that there are two basic approaches to planning: the conventional inside-out and a not-yet conventional outside-in (see Figure 1).


When one starts planning with the focus on our shared society — Mega — as the primary client and beneficiary, it starts outside of any organization — at societal good, at Mega. It is like getting a personal full medical exam before buying and using dietary supplements, diets, health enhancements, exercise equipment, and a continuing array of quick-fix health aids.

Starting outside of one’s usual frames of reference and organization provides a fresh and less-constraining perspective. Barker (1989) suggests that breakthroughs often come when you go outside of your professional area and look at different fields and different paradigms,

Outside-in thinking and planning and leadership challenges everything and requires us to “prove” the value of what we are currently doing. It might be a different kind of leadership—inversion leadership—that even leads to shifting paradigms and stands the conventional on its head. As Edison did with the electric light bulb (threatening kerosene lamps), and Tesla with alternating current (disrupting conventional electric delivery), such disruption leads to new and better futures for us all. Instead of resisting such outside-in thinking and leadership, it should be encouraged and cultivated. Such true entrepreneurial thinking creates new futures that replace the old.

Most people are interested in performance improvement and use the inside-out approach and sometimes link to Mega-level results. Serious inside-out linking to Mega/World is provided by Addison, Haig, & Kearny (2009).

This inside-out orientation, by far the most common in our profession, assumes that one’s organization is functional and can resolve important problems. This is the primary focus and emphasis in the current practice and in professional societies as well as in higher education.

I have come to the conviction that practical and useful planning is best done as outside-in planning at the Mega level. Starting there asks “what, if anything, can my organization contribute to making our world safer and more productive for all?” It is as if you were outside the organization, like a client or a community member, seeing the whole organization rather than its parts in the context of our shared world. It is getting the big picture. Part of being concerned with this big picture is an abiding knowledge of how our world is both changing and changeable.

If you don’t start there, with society and adding value at that level, you are assuming that you and your organization can solve identified problems cheaper, faster, better. It assumes that the attacked problems are real, basic, and worth resolving, It assumes that after the problems have been solved you and your organization will be successful. The graveyard of bankrupt companies is crowded with those who assumed such. Often, we do have to stop a hemorrhage before dealing with diet and exercise, but we have to prevent such trauma from happening again and becoming proactive. The alternative is Mega thinking and planning. To do Mega planning, ask “if my organization is the solution, what’s the problem?” and also ask “what, if anything, can my organization do to help create a better and safer world?”

Which approach should be used? Both. Sometimes a pressing internal issue can be both dealt with and used to open the door to going back to basics, to start with Mega and show whether your organization really adds measurable value internally as well as externally.

Noted educational innovator Gonzalo Rodriguez (personal communication, May 2006) stated that organizational change will best take place through projects. I find this usually true. The only breakdowns in organizational change come when the change is not fully institutionalized. Witness the robust growth that occurred at ITSON (Guerra & Rodriguez, 2005) only to have much of it—but not all—perish after the initiating executive management has left.

Bernardez (2018), includes key decision-makers to help ensure what Drucker (1973) termed “transfer of ownership.” Former U.S. Department of Education Associate Commissioner Leon Lessinger (1970) called for everyone to go from innovative practice to standard practice. Bernardez is also employing both an outside-in approach and an inside-out approach. But what are we doing to get real Mega-level innovation and value-added results?

While we are doing things to stop the bleeding (i.e., fixing the presenting problems), we are virtually ignoring outside-in perspectives and associated payoffs. Some in our arena even ridicule Mega initiatives or minimize them, as do many politicians who depend on conventional wisdom and immediate problems—and the quicker the fix, the better. This is standard practice, but it delivers less than we can really use or deserve.

What makes change happen? Do we have the personal power and resources to identify worthy change and initiate it? Some who work in the field doing instructional design or curriculum development focusing on e-learning experiences often sense that what they know how to do and deliver can be applied to larger frames: to their groups, to their organizations, and even to improving our shared world. But most feel powerless.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1994, 1995, 2004) noted that we dis-empower ourselves with old ideas of helplessness and victimhood or fear of criticism and thus restrict and self-instruct ourselves to not self-develop. At the same time, psychotherapist Harold Greenwald (1973, 2004) noted the importance of decision making and the rewards we do get and could get in defining and delivering personal success and happiness. The role of decision making and the payoffs one gets for either changing or not changing can be instrumental in personal change (Kaufman, 2006).

The role of rewards — those valued by oneself and those in their environment — is central. Want to know why people do what they do or why organizations do what they do? Why do tribes do what they do? Why do nations do what they do? Simply look at the reward structure. Skinner (1948, 1972) was right, and so were the behaviorists who developed his thinking (c.f. Brethower, 1995, 2005, 2006 and the many others who built on his insights). Rewards matter.

Rewards can be very personal and might not be shared by others. Thus, the role of the individual in defining what is rewarding is critical to understanding and encouraging planned change. But feelings of powerlessness are often self-imposed and thus self-limiting. Change is often personally defied and resisted, even in the face of information contrary to one’s beliefs (Inman, 2018). Still, change can and does happen. Witness the world-wide women’s movement where people decided to take charge of their lives and moved from being discounted to becoming equal and powerful. It only took individual and shared decision making to change the rewards—and the consequences and payoffs.

Change is possible once one decides to change his or her current rewards and payoffs to desired rewards and payoffs (Kaufman, 2006). What professionals do and deliver at operational levels of organizations can be scaled to larger frames of concern. As Tosti (2007) observed, what we do is scalable. All we must do is empower ourselves to do so. As Janis Joplin said, you are what you settle for.

In planning, how best do we define and justify why we should do anything? I proposed a type of needs assessment that defines “need” as a gap in results not a gap in means, solutions, or resources (Kaufman, 2006, 2011; Kaufman & English, 1979; Kaufman & Guerra-Lopez, 2008, 2013), shown in Figure 2.


Imperative for this definition and its utility is that objectives—results—be stated in measurable performance terms. They clearly declare where you are headed and how to tell when you have arrived (c.f. Mager, 1997).

When this definition of “need” as a noun, as a gap in results, is used you get three bonuses:

  1. The “What Should Be” measurable objectives provide evidence-based program and project design criteria.
  2. You have your evaluation framework set up; you only have to measure the extent to which you closed the gap Between What Is and What Should Be,
  3. You have the basis for demonstrating the value and worth of what you intend to do by showing “the cost to meet the need” and justifying it based on “the cost to ignore the need.”

It is important because our world is changing rapidly (c.f. Whittkuhn, 2018) that we use that as part of the “What Is” identification. Be sure not to confuse “What is” with “What Was.”

Bernardez has developed a double-bottom-line method for measuring this (Bernardez, et al. 2012; Bernardez, 2018). By planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating, using evidence-based objectives, one may provide estimates for what meeting the needs of organizations and even communities (Kaufman, 2019) would cost and what payoffs might be delivered. 2020 are also looking at what they call “nanoeconomics” to include the Mega, Macro, and Micro levels while getting into fine-grained needs assessments and associated planning. But is this enough to create our future? I think not.

Where are the big ideas? The bold ideas? Are the current reinforcers and rewards all aligned against them? Are there any overt awards for societal practical innovation? Bernardez, through the ISPI Kaufman Awards, is attempting to reward such shifts. Management expert W.K Roberts (1995) once called Mega “practical dreaming,” Is it? Can Mega dreams come true?

I think our societal and collective future depends on outside-in Mega thinking while we do the vital fix-and repair of our operational world. Not either—both. To that end, I have proposed both a hierarchy of planning and a needs-assessment hierarchy (Kaufman, 2018) to serve as a template and guide to include all internal and external partners in including “how,” “what,” and “why” (see Figure 3).


Our future is bright if we create it and seize it. We can move from “how” to “what” to “why,” and integrate them all to define and deliver useful results. Or we can stay focused on fix-and-repair. I suggest that we can grasp the full transition to a bright future by including how, what, and why and have a primary focus on creating a world for tomorrow’s child. The choice is ours.

The article was originally published on Performance Improvement (April 23, 2020) and it has been republished with author’s permission.


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Cite as:

Kaufman, R. (2020), The journey to the future of social, organizational, and individual performance: a migration from how to what to why. Being Better Matters May 6, 2020. Available at (accessed: date of your access)

Authors profile:

Roger Kaufman (1933-2020)

It is with our deepest sadness and sorrow that we announce the passing of our dear collegue Roger Kaufman on September 23, 2020.

Professor emeritus, Florida State University, and has served as Distinguished Research Professor at the Sonora Institute of Technology (Mexico). He received ATD’s Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance award. He is a past president, honorary member for life and Thomas Gilbert Award winner, all with the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Kaufman has published 41 books and over 300 articles on strategic planning, performance improvement, quality management, needs assessment, management, and evaluation.

Articles published on Being Better Matters