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NOTE: Effective January 1, 2017, I will no longer post new articles since I am now fully retired.

Friday, December 30, 2016

How to Acknowledge Reality



Staying grounded in reality is not easy these days. We are bombarded with so much noise, misinformation and flashing news alerts. It’s easy to get distracted from what is truly important. Getting grounded in reality requires a very sound principle known as Critical Thinking. If more people would simply think in a critical way, they would break through the clutter and see the truth.

It all starts with listening to various viewpoints and asking questions. A good framework for asking questions is to cover the W’s and the How: Who, When, Where, Why and How. Your goal is to aggressively dissect the issue from various sources and through a series of questions you filter out what is false and retain what is true.  Take for example a small child who is always asking questions about how things work – they have a natural curiosity of seeking the truth. Decisions are deferred until you compile enough evidence to reach an objective and rational conclusion. The challenge is to remove your prejudice feelings and just like a child, remain open-minded, finding your way to the answer.

In order to reach a sound conclusion, you will have to apply reasoning. This typically takes two forms:
Deductive Reasoning (top down) and Inductive Reasoning (bottom up). Deductive reasoning is when you arrive at an answer and you decide to apply it. For example, you have concluded that nasal spray is a better way of treating your allergies as opposed to taking pills. When you get an allergy you try it and see if your deductive reasoning is correct. Inductive reasoning is the opposite – you are not sure why the problem is taking place and you try to identify the reasons. Perhaps you develop a list of things that could be causing your allergies. One by one you test and work through the list until you find the items that are causing the problem.

Reasoning is not easy. There are so many ways of getting derailed. Here are 18 areas to watch out for per The Thinker’s Guide to the Art of Strategic Thinking by Linda Elder and Richard Paul:

1.            Jumping to conclusions
2.            Failing to think about the implications of your decision
3.            Not staying focused on the goal or objective, wandering off
4.            Not grounded in the reality of your current situation, too idealistic
5.            Not recognizing contradictions or evidence that says the opposite
6.            Asking vague questions or giving vague answers to questions – If you don’t know, just say so
7.            Reliance on information that is incomplete, inaccurate or not relevant
8.            Inferring something about the situation from your own experiences, but it doesn’t fit this particular situation
9.            Distorting information or evidence to advance an agenda
10.          Not recognizing your assumptions
11.          Spending too much time on things that are minor or insignificant to the decision
12.          Not aware of your own bias or short comings
13.          Unable to communicate effectively
14.          Improper use of words
15.          Key ideas were not recognized
16.          So called experts are not qualified or really experienced with the subject
17.          Over simplifying what is essentially very complicated
18.          Forming concepts that are too theoretical and not practical enough

If we leverage this list and distill it down, then it becomes important to follow a set of principles. These principles include:  

1.            Clarity – Remove the ambiguity to put focus on the problem. You can better understand a problem by comparing it to similar problems or re-phrasing the problem. 
2.            Accuracy – Don’t accept what someone tells you. Make sure it is true or false before accepting it. You want your decision to be based on accurate evidence. In some cases, you may have to validate it.
3.            Precision – It can help to be precise with statements. For example, by quantifying a statement you bring increased precision to what you are saying. For example, it is accurate to say: All human beings have a limited life span. It is more precise to say: Human beings have an average life span of 69 years. By providing more details, you become more precise. 
4.            Consistency – When you take a position, it should not be in conflict with known facts. Your decision should be consistent with the evidence that supports the decision. For example, Politicians are often criticized for making statements to one group and then changing the statement to fit another group. You need to be consistent in what it is you say or decide. 
5.            Relevance – You should focus on those things that are relevant to the decision. It is not unusual to spend excessive time on noise and other information that has nothing to do with your problem or issue. There should be a connection or relationship with the information that is under consideration regarding a decision. You also may have to consider the significance of the evidence to your problem. Some variables or factors are much more important than others.  
6.            Sound Evidence – Critical thinkers look for good evidence and ask: Why should I accept this? Examples of evidence include: Samples, Observations, Testimonials, Comparisons, Research, Experiences, Subject Matter Experts and Expert Witnesses.
7.            Good Reasoning – When you make a decision or take a position, you should have good reasoning behind the decision or position. Your thinking has support behind it based on observations and factual evidence.
8.            Depth – Your viewpoint, position or decision should speak to the problem or issue. It must be deep enough to explain it or possibly solve it. You sometimes may fall short of not going far enough. Perhaps your analysis was cursory and incomplete. You have to speak to the issue and not avoid it.
9.            Breadth – Critical thinkers consider various viewpoints. They seek to remove bias by considering other opinions. A wide net is cast in how a problem is viewed – we enlisted Engineers, Artist, Women, and others to uncover different perspectives.  
10.          Fairness – It is important to be fair to all sides. For example, if you spend all of your time listening to liberal viewpoints without listening to conservative viewpoints, then you are not being fair. You cannot let your own personal feelings or viewpoints cloud your decision. 

Finally, as you gain more experience and knowledge across a wide range of situations, you can start to act on intuition. This is the advanced level of decision making whereby you have mastered the principles described in this article. This requires a lot of experience with decision making across a wide range of situations. Two books that can help give you insights behind intuition are: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and The Go Point: When It’s Time to Decide by Michael Useem.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

To Understand Leadership, Understand Followers



People want to be led and not controlled. Anyone involved in managing people should be a leader. This is what your people are looking for. You can start by communicating the direction for others to follow with an emphasis on delegating and supporting their efforts.  You want people to be motivated and productive, reaching their full potential in the work place. This requires staying out of the way and not being a micro-manager, but still holding people accountable for performance. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

From Shareholder Value to Stakeholder Value



The most significant sources of value for an organization are elusive, non-quantifiable and not easily discerned. They include things like talent, leadership and reputation. In order to get aligned around these elusive sources of value, companies should take a broader view of value – how do we add value to our stakeholders and not just the shareholders. The more traditional view of value has a narrow focus on the numbers and can include things like:




  • Short-term reactions to valuations which are sometimes dramatic such as mergers or layoffs
  • A bottom-line focus on earnings from quarter to quarter
  • Slow to respond to change where new ideas are not aggressively developed
  • A culture where value through intellectual capital is not widely practiced
  • Business success is highly centered around how we increase shareholder value
  • Sources of value are isolated or fragmented and not coherent across the entire company such as having the right culture

Let’s contrast this to a broader stakeholder view of value:


  • Sustainable, competitive thinking drives the vision and the company has much more long-term strategic focus
  • Value cuts across all parts of the company including the entire value chain
  • There is an easy flow of ideas and a culture of innovation
  • People who drive value for others (inside and/or outside the company) are promoted and advance within the company – it’s not just about meeting the numbers
  • There is an incremental approach to rational decision making that is rooted in predictive analytics
  • The bottom line is more about value and not earnings and this requires a broad and long-term view of the future



“A value is a belief in action. It is a choice about what is good or bad, important or unimportant. Values shape behavior. Until a value is acted upon it remains an aspiration. Values are hard to detect; yet they underpin organizations like the foundations of a house. If the foundation is weak, then the house falls down.”
- Unblocking Organizational Values by Dave Francis and Mike Woodcook

One way of moving away from shareholder value to stakeholder value is to identify real value drivers for your stakeholders. These bottom layer drivers will give you great insight into what really works on reaching the upper shareholder layer of value. This type of thinking needs to permeate all levels of the organization so that eventually, everyone is asking the question: How does my behavior or actions impact value and what can I do to create more value?

“What people value causes organizations to have cultures and acquire the reputations they have. World-class companies usually have cutting-edge technology, superior management systems, outstanding electronic systems, and database management, but their reputations all come back to human beings – the people who make decisions and take actions in these organizations, while using technological and management systems and tools. One of the critical characteristics of successful companies is a careful balance between the values, interests, goals, and objectives of the organization, and the values of the individuals who work for it.”
- Value Driven Management: How to Create and Maximize Value over Time for Organizational Success by Randolph A. Pohlman and Gareth S. Gardiner with Ellen M. Heffes

One common trap to value creation is to become overly pre-occupied with metrics. You should not confuse value creation with value-based metrics. Value type metrics are widely accepted and understood – things like EVA, Cash Value Added, Return on Investment, etc. However, the biggest sources of value (things like leadership, innovation, ethical behavior, knowledge, etc.) are not easy to quantify.

“Value is added in the sense that the situation is better than if nothing was done at all. But value is destroyed in the sense that the optimal value has not yet been implemented.”
- The Value Mandate by Peter J. Clark and Stephen Neill

Value-creation is a constant and difficult struggle since we can't predict the future and most important drivers of value are not measurable. Therefore, it may be appropriate to focus on only a few key drivers of value since organizational resources are limited. For example, one of the ultimate drivers of value resides in your people. So if you want to start at one single point on real value creation, begin with your human resource capital. One reason this is important is because people transcend and help you meet the value-proposition required by your other stakeholder groups – customers, suppliers, partners, etc. People represent the fluid dynamics that binds all stakeholders, covering the full range of value-creation in this age of stakeholder value and not just shareholder value.

“We don't believe in the word ‘measurement.' We don't supervise or manage people here; we lead. And we don't have employees; we have people. We don't have human resources; we have a people department. Our emotional contract with people is to treat them with respect, allow them to have input into the company, and allow them to self-actualize within their jobs.”
- Stephen Smith, CEO of WestJet