Tag Archives: decision making

Decision making. Noise, intuition and the value of feedback.


By Elisabeth Goodman, 1st February 2017

There is a lot more ‘noise’ in decision making than we might suppose.

The Harvard Business Review has been running some very useful articles on decision making.  The most recent article by Kahneman D. et al, “The cost of inconsistent decision making”, October 2016, p.38, suggests that the incidence of professionals or experts making different decisions on the basis of the same facts and data is higher than we might suppose.  They call this “noise”.

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

This is different from bias, where people might make a consistently wrong decision based on their prejudices. (I wrote a blog based about this some time ago after reading Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”.)

Kahneman et al suggest that this noise, or variability, in decision making could be quite important in professional settings that require judgement, such as medicine, finance, project management.  Presumably this would also apply to scientific research and development, and in such areas of management as evaluating job performance!

The authors maintain that people assume that they, and their peers, will be able to make good and consistent judgements, and yet this is not the case.

Decision making relies on intuition, as well as facts and data

I was reminded of a series of three blogs that I wrote a few years ago based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”.  To quote an extract from the third blog: intuition “is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in

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which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.”

The September 2016 article on decision making “How to tackle your toughest decisions”, by Badaracco J.L, p.104. suggests five key questions to consider, in order to use judgement effectively.  Badaracco defines judgement as a combination of thought, feelings, experience, imagination and character – so some echoes of Klein’s definition of intuition.

Decision making is enhanced by good feedback

Kahneman et al. remind us that in high skill areas such as playing chess, or driving, we get very rapid and significant feedback on our decisions.  If we make a false move, there are very tangible consequences!

By contrast, decisions made in projects, or in research and development can take quite a long time to play out before we know the outcomes and their implications.

Management decisions such as evaluation of performance, can also result in quite rapid feedback from the individuals concerned, but it may not always be considered in a very constructive way..

Practitioners of Knowledge Management already use a range of techniques to help them and their teams reflect on what they can learn from experience.  This is a form of feedback.  The techniques include short and sharp “After Action Reviews” after significant milestones, and more in-depth “Learning Retrospects” at the end of projects.

Systematic approaches for reducing noise in decision making

Kahneman et al, Klein and Badaracco between them suggest a number of approaches for enhancing decision making.. Their approaches, and some others that I have come across include:

Tapping into different mindsets

The MBTI zigzag model ensures that we use the different information and decision making preferences available to us: ‘sensing’ to review all the facts and data; ‘intuition’ to extrapolate to what might be; ‘thinking’ to consider cause and effect; ‘feeling’ to reference how we feel about alternatives and outcomes.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is another variation of this, and helps a group of people work collaboratively in both generating and then evaluating ideas.

Badaracco’s five suggested questions is yet another variation (with thanks to my colleague Liz Mercer for talking me through these..):

  • Think, as widely as possible and with input from others, about the net, net consequences of all your options.
  • Consider your core obligations to the key people (stakeholders) affected by your decision: what they would think and feel about the consequences.
  • Think about the world as it is – be pragmatic about your chances for success.
  • Consider your values – what do you / your organisation stand for, and how would this decision align with those values.
  • Ask yourself “can we live with this”? Imagine explaining your decision to a friend or partner and what their reaction would be.

Using 4-box and more complex decision matrices

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee's Lean Sigma courses for evaluating decisions.

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee’s Lean Sigma courses for evaluating potential improvement solutions.

These are visual tools for evaluating alternative options against agreed criteria.  The 4-box matrix is the simplest version.  More complex decision matrices will have more criteria.

Check-lists and carefully formatted questions

This would seem a fairly simple way to document the factors to be considered when making perhaps more routine decisions, ensuring that all the necessary information has been collected and evaluated.

Constructing algorithms

This is Kahneman et al’s main recommendation for reducing ‘noise’ in decision making, after conducting a ‘noise audit’ to find out quite how bad the variability is.  They suggest that it would be possible to construct algorithms fairly simply, by identifying a few (6-8) key variables that are closely linked to the outcome. These could then be combined into a formula, with alternative decisions assigned to the different outcomes.  Sadly the article was missing a simple example to illustrate this approach.

Using Decision making exercises or ‘DMX’ from Klein

These are “an accelerated learning process” for developing individual intuition.  They rely on defining and working through scenarios as a group, so participants can gain quicker and deeper insights from each others expertise.

Kahneman el at suggest something similar: but with people working on a given scenario independently – and then coming together to explore the decisions made and what they can learn from that.

Conclusion

So, there are lots of factors to consider for improved decision making.

You could conduct a “noise audit”: have people make decisions independently to find out how different their conclusions are, and use this as a learning opportunity in its own right or…

….explore alternative approaches for your decision making.

You could use techniques such as “decision making exercises” to enhance people’s intuitive skills.

And you could ensure that you collect feedback and take time to learn about the consequences of your decisions on a more systematic basis.

What will you do?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Appreciative Inquiry – a tool and philosophy for positive change


The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th November 2016

Asking questions sets the tone for what will follow – start from what’s working well

It seemed obvious from the moment that our facilitator, Andy Smith (Coaching Leaders), mentioned it at the start of the two day course on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that I attended this week. The minute you ask someone, or a group of people a question, you have influenced their mindset. Ask them what they like about something, or what is going well, and the chances are they will relax, open up and be in the mood to be creative. Ask them what’s not working and they may get defensive, close up and descend into despondency.

That’s a simplification of course as people may want to air their problems before they can open up to explore solutions, and they may automatically rise to the challenge rather than wait to be asked the right question. But the general premise of AI is to focus on what’s working well, on what people do best and on everyone’s potential to do so much more and better. Asking the right, open, positive questions will enable this to happen.

There are implications for coaching and personal development, for team building, for problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management and for managing change! This blog just highlights a few of the ways to do this. There’s obviously a lot more about this that I will weave into RiverRhee‘s work and that you can find out about from some of the references below.

A new five-step model

The illustration at the start of this blog is of the five-step model. (Andy calls this ‘the 5 Ds’ but I already have a different 5D model that I refer to for time or productivity management so I will keep these distinct.)

Define the topic to be explored in an affirmative way: so it is stated in terms of what you want to move towards, rather than the problem to be moved away from. Focus on the vision and your mind and body will be already working out creative ways to achieve it.

Discover all the things that you are already doing well towards achieving that vision. This is where the affirmative questioning really starts to kick in.

Dream what it would be like when you achieve that vision: what will you hear, feel, see, think? What would it be like if a miracle happened overnight? This step engages the emotions: the heart as well as the mind and creates a really compelling vision.

Design all the possible alternatives (without evaluating at this stage) for achieving the dream. Build on what’s going well and stretch beyond that.

Deliver – this is the point at which you evaluate the alternatives and decide on the next steps to achieve your vision.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry to coaching

People familiar with the GROW and T-GROW models of coaching will have spotted that define equates with setting the topic (T) or goal (G). Discover equates to reality (R) but with a focus on what’s working well rather than on what’s generally happening. Dream is an enhanced version of the goal. Design equates to options (O) but holding back on evaluating those options. Deliver equates to will ( W ).

The slightly different order of the AI five-step process means that the aspirational vision or dream can build on the positive mood generated and so be more creative than the early definition of the goal permits in the GROW model. Although, in practice, either model can be iterative in a coaching situation.

Appreciative Inquiry and team building

The five-step model could also be used with a group of people in a team situation, to explore how a team can become more effective and attain, or sustain high performance. It could be used ‘live’ within a workshop, as an alternative to using pre-workshop diagnostics or temperature checks as described in some of my previous blogs for team development.

So the team can define in real time what it wants to achieve, discover all the things it is currently doing well, dream of what it could do, brainstorm how it could get there (design), and then agree the actions to take forward (deliver). The team could use rating scales (1 to 5, 1 to 10 etc) at any point in this discussion to make their assessments and goals more tangible.

Appreciative Inquiry and problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management

As the previous sections demonstrate, the five-step model has built in approaches to aid with problem solving, decision making and innovation. Focusing on what has gone well and using the dream steps arguably allow people to go beyond just fixing the problem into new realms of creativity.

Apparently others have already explored how to apply AI in Lean and Six Sigma, and I shall look into this more. Certainly, exploring what has gone well and why, in the Measure and Analyse phases of the DMAIC are possibilities that I do already touch upon in my RiverRhee courses. We also sometimes use ‘blue sky’ thinking to imagine a ‘to be’ way of working in the Improve phase.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis also encourage equivalents to the Discover step (yellow hat, and Strengths respectively), the Dream step (green and Opportunities), and Design (green again, and the actions arising out of the SWOT analysis).

Andy also mentioned SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) as an affirmative alternative to SWOT and which should give more scope for the Dream step!

Finally, knowledge management techniques will obviously benefit from AI, especially as having a productive conversation is at the heart of sharing knowledge between people. After Action Reviews, Learning Reviews or Retrospects (or Lessons Learned exercises in Project Management) already explore what went well. So AI techniques and philosophies would enhance the outcomes in these areas too.

Appreciative Inquiry and managing change

Last but not least, AI has something to offer those leading or dealing with change and so support one of my missions which is to create ‘navigators‘ as opposed to ‘victims’ of change! We can aim to understand and look for ways to maintain, enhance, or at a minimum, compensate for the best of what people previously had in creating whatever the new situation might be. And we can ensure that that new situation is as compelling a vision or ‘dream’ as possible.

In conclusion

There are lots of opportunities to apply Appreciative Inquiry tools and ways of thinking in our working and home lives.  I am using some of these applications already, and looking forward to exploring more with with clients, colleagues, friends and family!

I’ll try not to be a “rose-tinted evangelist” though: we still need to acknowledge the very real problems and challenges that people experience and how they feel about them.

How might you apply AI?

further references

ABOUT THE author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

De Bono’s thinking course. An essential facilitator’s tool?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th January 2015

Edward De Bono’s thinking course

One of the aspects of my local library that I particularly enjoy is the way I might serendipitously discover a gem of a book that the staff have either casually or deliberately put on display. One such recent discovery was Edward De Bono’s “Thinking Course: Powerful tools to transform your thinking

De Bono’s book caught my eye because the methods I’ve already learnt from him: mind mapping, and the “six thinking hats” have become an integral part of the way I work, and the tools that I pass on to others as a trainer and coach, and also as a facilitator. So I was curious as to what other lasting approaches I might learn from him in that vein.

The book proved to be a veritable treasure trove and I was delighted to discover that the term for another skill that I’ve enjoyed for years “lateral thinking” is actually one that he coined!

Facilitating workshops

One of the activities I particularly enjoy is facilitating workshops. This is when I create an environment where people have the time, the comfort, and the tools to really think about how they are approaching their work, and how they can do so in a more enjoyable and productive way.

De Bono’s “Thinking Course” is all about developing our skill in thinking, so that we are more conscious of which approaches we are using, how we are using them, and how we could use them more effectively in any given situation. As he says, it’s a bit like practising a sport where we might have a choice about which golf club, tennis stroke, or volleyball position to adopt to achieve the desired result.

The six thinking hats

De Bono’s “six thinking hats” (which incidentally is not mentioned, at least in the edition of the book that I read) is a good illustration of this more deliberate approach to thinking. It is somewhat of an introduction, and also a synopsis of some of the approaches in the Thinking Course, although the book also develops these approaches and others more fully.

Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

The “six thinking hats” encourage us to objectively consider what we already know (the white hat) and to exercise creative or divergent thinking to come up with new ideas (the green hat). With the yellow hat we look for the strengths of potential solutions, before narrowing down or converging the options by considering what won’t work (the black hat).  The red hat allows us to  consider our ‘gut feelings’. The sixth, blue, hat is like the director of the orchestra or the facilitator. It enables us to consider how we are thinking and whether we might like to think things through further or differently.

Become a flexible and creative thinker

In “The thinking course” De Bono encourages us to move beyond the traditional ‘for’ and ‘against’ confines of critical thinking, and the natural limitations of our perceptions and to engage our creativity. He provides lots of tools and exercises for approaches in addition to ‘lateral’ thinking. He suggests a framework for how people might set up “thinking clubs”, which is intriguing in his assertion of how much people can achieve in sequences of as little as 2-6 minutes of thinking.

The more creative and flexible thinking advocated by De Bono, and the techniques he suggests should be invaluable for problem solving, decision making, innovation, and thinking in general. I will certainly be adding them to my facilitator’s tool kit.

How could you make the most of your thinking?

Are you a facilitator and/or interested in how you and your team solve problems, make decisions and innovate?  What approach do you take to thinking things through?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

Engaging staff in operational excellence – a case study on the visual workplace


Managing cargo shipments in the Port of Felixstowe

I’ve been catching-up on my business reading.  I always find something fascinating when I do….

True to form, my efforts were quickly rewarded this morning, with a case study on digital signage at the Port of Felixstowe in the August 14th issue of Business Weekly. This article caught my attention for two reasons:

  • I’d been impressed, whilst sketching* on the beach during a late summer trip to Felixstowe, by the size and frequency of the cargo ships going across the horizon.
  • I’m always intrigued by how organisations engage their staff in a commitment to operational excellence.
Cargo ship and operational excellence in Felixstowe

Cargo ship on the horizon and operational excellence in Felixstowe

(*I’m a very recently initiated amateur! More about this for anyone interested in the July-August RiverRhee Newsletter.)

Collecting metrics is a step towards operational excellence

Most business teams collect metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on their performance.  It’s a requirement from management.  Variations on cost, time and quality – often expressed as frequencies, quantities, timings etc. – are dutifully collected and included in monthly reports.

We talk about these metrics during the RiverRhee training courses that I run on Lean and Six Sigma, and on Change Management.  Questions that are often raised are:

  • Are the right things being measured: will they give us meaningful and useful information on how we are performing in relation to our customers and our goals?
  • Is anyone paying attention to the metrics and using them to make decisions, to improve performance on a continuous basis, to monitor whether anticipated  benefits are being delivered?
  • Have we in fact got too many metrics?

‘Stand-up’ meetings and a visual workplace can make a real difference to engagement and results

One of the things I enjoy about working with multiple customers is witnessing the diversity of their approaches and hearing about examples of operational excellence.

One company uses ‘stand-up’ meetings at the start of the day and at lunch time (to catch people working on different shifts).  They update a white board in a narrow corridor with their key targets and up to the minute metrics on performance in relation to customers and operations.  The local manager or supervisor runs through the figures, celebrates achievements, asks for comments and suggestions.  One or two members of staff might also share an item of news or a good practice.  The narrowness of the corridor and the absence of chairs help to ensure that the meeting is very brief – it lasts 15 minutes at the most. Everyone is engaged, informed, energised and committed to the organisation’s aims and their roles within it.

Other organisations have more sophisticated white boards or electronic displays in more spacious locations that can be viewed as people go by as well as in similar ‘stand up’ briefings at key points of the day or working week.

Using ‘media screens’ at the Port of Felixstowe

The case study in Business Weekly features Anders+Kern (A+K) PADS (www.anders-kern.co.uk) and the Port of Felixstowe’s decision to use their ‘media screens’ to provide ‘real-time and relevant information’ to the approximate 75 per cent of their staff involved in operational roles and delivering services to their customers. (The Port of Felixstowe A+K case study is also available online.)

The article describes how the information communicated includes ‘progress against customer service targets’ and ‘changes to operational procedures’.

This is all very good to hear about.  It would be wonderful to get an inside view on the impact that this approach to the visual workplace is having on employee engagement and operational excellence.

How are you engaging your staff in operational excellence?  Do you have some form of visual workplace?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), APM (Association for Project Management) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

The needs of globally dispersed, innovative, teams


In our August 2012 RiverRhee Consulting newsletter, my Associates and I wrote about our insights on working in virtual teams, so it was with some interest that I read about “10 rules for managing global innovation” in the October issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR)1.

After all, that’s what most ‘virtual’, ‘dispersed’ or ‘far flung’ teams are aiming to do: work globally and innovate, be it to make incremental, or more large scale innovative improvements to their portfolio, whatever it might be.

In this blog I’ll discuss the needs of globally dispersed innovative teams in the context of the insights in the RiverRhee newsletter and the 10 rules of the HBR article.

A different kind of management to make up for the lack of informal, ‘ad hoc’ communication

In our newsletter we referred to the need for managers of virtual teams to have a “much broader skill set” than those managing co-located teams.  They need to be able to switch between their skill-sets to support dispersed team members in different ways depending on their local characteristics.  Local differences may be cultural, but it may also be a matter of the different personality mix and dynamics at each location.

It’s true that dispersed teams may find it harder to stay focused on goals, tackle problems in a timely way, and make everyday decisions that enable them to maintain their momentum, without some form of more active management involvement than might be needed in a co-located team.

The HBR article suggests that a senior manager should be assigned responsibility for overseeing the work of a globally dispersed team.  This assumes that the team does not already have an overall manager in place and instead consists of a looser form of collaboration between the different locations.

The authors also suggest that one site be appointed as the lead one.  They would assist the overall manager in ensuring that a consistent bigger picture is addressed, whereas other sites might be focusing more on the detail.  This site would also ensure effective decision-making and on-going progress.

A well-defined goal

The HBR article suggests that a geographically dispersed team will find it harder not to drift from their remit!  In our newsletter we suggested that that remit or vision should be centred on consistent communication with their customer.  A team focused on innovation should definitely have a vision for what they are aiming to deliver, and with the end-customer in mind.

So again, this is where a directive management approach is essential in ensuring that the team stays focused on their goal.

A strong team

In our newsletter, we suggested that this is where a combination of good interpersonal relationships and sound working practices will come to the fore – to address the greater diversity of a global team, and the challenges of working in a more dispersed way.

The HBR article suggests that a stable organizational context (to shield the team from additional distractions) and rigorous project management (with seasoned project leaders) are additional key factors for success.  The authors also suggest that starting with small cross-location projects or collaborations will also help the team to develop that strong start.

Globally dispersed teams may cross organizational boundaries, for instance if they are engaged in Open Innovation, something that I’ve been learning a lot about in my work with OI Pharma Partners.  Even without being engaged in the complexities of Open Innovation, globally dispersed teams are likely to have multiple partners, suppliers, sub-contractors etc.  The HBR article suggests that teams deliberately limit the number of these to reduce complexity, and to use those the team knows well and are more closely located.

Like us, the HBR article suggests that a team should not be over-reliant on technology for its communication, and that nothing beats initial and if possible regular face-to-face interaction to build rapport and connection within the global team.

Building the team’s expertise

The HBR article points out that one of the benefits of using a global team is the greater opportunity to draw on the necessary expertise and capabilities at the different locations.  It’s therefore important to do just that, and not get drawn in to involving people just because they are available if they are not a good fit for what the team requires.

The authors also suggest deliberately overlapping areas of expertise between locations to foster interdependencies in their work, collaboration and knowledge sharing between them.

Finally, we stressed the importance of all team members being engaged in sharing their expertise, strengths and insights for the benefit of the whole virtual team.  We also suggested that geographically dispersed team members can each play a leadership role to benefit the rest of the team by looking for opportunities to deliver the greatest value in the application of their individual areas of expertise and strength.

what have we missed?

The reflections from the RiverRhee August 2012 newsletter, combined with the 10 rules from the HBR article seem to be a strong recipe for success!  What do you think? Have we missed anything?

Notes

1. 10 Rules for Managing Global Innovation, by Keeley Wilson and Yves L. Doz.  Harvard Business Review, October 2012, pp 85-90

2. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Why is employee engagement such an important topic?


By Elisabeth Goodman

My blog on employee engagement (Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners) is, of all the blogs that I have written since 2009), the one that has attracted the most attention.  I wrote it in response to an article I read in the business section of the Sunday Observer1 – a very informative study that the Observer had commissioned, rich in case studies and data from FTSE 100 companies.  So why has this blog attracted so much attention?

Employee engagement is the key to organisational and team effectiveness

The Observer article caught my attention because employee engagement, or involvement is intrinsic to business process improvement through such techniques as Lean and Six Sigma.  If people are not engaged, they won’t be committed to the organisation’s goals, won’t be able to communicate those goals as part of building strong customer relations, and won’t be looking for ways to achieve those goals through efficient internal processes.

People also need to be engaged in order to achieve effective business change.  Participants in my Change Management courses sometimes find it a revelation to hear that resistance from those experiencing change is a good thing, something to be welcomed.  Resistance is an indication that people are actually beginning to engage with a change:  that they are considering what the impact will be on them, rather than oblivious to or ignoring it.

And without engagement, people will find it impossible to identify and share the learning and insights, which are essential to healthy and thriving teams and organisations if they are to learn from their mistakes and build on their successes.

As I wrote in the December 2011 version of my RiverRhee Newsletter, “The answer comes from within… with the help of others”, it’s only possible to have an effective team or organisation if people are engaged.  Employees have the key!

‘Empowerment’ and ‘Intrapreneurs’

One of the big themes in my life as a corporate employee was ‘empowerment’: encouraging employees to appreciate and act upon the idea that they had ‘the power’ to make decisions and carry them out without necessarily referring to their managers.

As someone who is now self-employed and runs my own business, the idea of acting otherwise makes no sense at all!  I work in teams in an associate relationship, and we collaborate in our decision-making and actions.  I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, and have often wondered what it would be like if people took an ‘intrapreneurial’ approach to working within organisations.  In a 2010 newsletter (‘Finding our voice’ – a route to greater employee engagement and empowerment?), I suggested that what might help people to do this is to take a more active perspective of their careers – so that they view their current job as one that they have chosen, and are in control of, rather than something that they are being subjected to (to put it a bit bluntly!).

What if there weren’t any managers?!

I really enjoyed reading the case study of Morning Star in the December 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review.2   Gary Hamel describes a leading food processor, with revenues of over $700 million and 400 full-time employees, which functions entirely around the principles of self-management.

At Morning Star, no-one has a manager, each employee negotiates responsibilities with their peers and is responsible for finding the tools that they need for their work, everyone can spend the company money, there are no job titles or promotions, and compensation is decided between peers. The only ‘boss’ is the overall mission of the company.

This model works at Morning Star because it combines an individuals’ responsibility (and freedom) for managing their work within the context of the overall mission, and collaboration between peers to define and review individual roles and expected performance.

The article goes into a lot more detail, but one of the many interesting aspects of this model is that engagement and empowerment are not issues at all in this kind of scenario.  As a result of this approach, every individual inevitably has to:

  1. Use their initiative
  2. Continuously develop their skills to enhance the quality of their work
  3. Display flexibility to respond to the changing environment of the organisation
  4. Work in a collegiate way to fulfill their role in relation to their peers
  5. Make decisions that directly affect their work

These are wonderful illustrations of process improvement / Lean and Six Sigma (1,2,4,5), Change Management (3), and Knowledge Management (2, 4) in practice.

Some final thoughts about thriving

I love my work, and welcome Monday mornings as the start of another week of new discoveries, opportunities to work with others and practice and develop my skills.  I meet many others running their own business that feel the same.  It sounds like the employees at Morning Star may also feel like this.

Another Harvard Business Review article3 suggests that giving employees a chance to learn and grow will help them and the organisation to thrive.  This time the managers are in charge again, but some of the themes re-occur:

  1. Providing employees with the discretion to make decisions directly affecting their work
  2. Ensuring that people have the information they need to understand how their work relates to the organisation’s mission and strategy
  3. Encouraging good (civil) behaviour – positive relationships
  4. Offering performance feedback

The authors suggest that these 4 mechanisms will foster vitality (or energy in individuals and in those with whom they interact), and learning (or growth from new knowledge and skills).

Conclusion

It seems that, unless people are running their own business or are self-managing themselves in an organisation such as Morning Star, employers need to study and support the mechanisms that will enable employee engagement and so help individuals and the organisation to thrive.  We’re obviously not there yet.

Why are you interested in employee engagement? It would be great to read your comments.

Notes

  1. Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service? Observer, 22 August 2010, pp38-39
  2. Gary Hamel.  First, let’s fire all the managers. Harvard Business Review, December 2011, pp49-60
  3. Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath.  Creating sustainable performance.  Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012, pp93-99

Elisabeth Goodmanis the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Intuition revisited – inter-relationship of intuition and knowledge management (Part 3 of 3 blogs)


There are some interesting inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM)

This blog follows on from part 2: “Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma”, and part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”.  All three blogs are based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”1

Klein explains that intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.  It is something that we must continuously foster and maintain.  Klein describes ways that we can foster intuition in ourselves and in others, and ways in which we can integrate it into our way of working. Several of the approaches that he describes echo knowledge management techniques such as ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

This blog will explore the inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM).

Is intuition ‘tacit’ knowledge?

Klein spends some time defending intuition as something very real and tangible. Neither magical nor mystical, it is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.  We can also help to cultivate it in others through a combination of written instructions (i.e. ‘explicit’ knowledge) and coaching.

This sounds very much like what we KM practitioners call ‘tacit’ knowledge: the knowledge that is “in people’s heads”.  Klein also draws a version of the data – information – knowledge pyramid.  Only, he adds ‘understanding’ and then several bullet points associated with intuition:

  • recognizing patterns,
  • searching for data,
  • building mental models,
  • seeing the stories (KM practitioners like storytelling as well but as a way to  capture and transfer knowledge),
  • adapting,
  • taking an active stance,

before looping back to data etc.

KM practitioners sometimes add ‘wisdom’ to the top of the data  – information – knowledge pyramid.

Using scenario-based exercises to foster intuition

Klein devotes a lot of his book to ‘Decision Making Exercises’ (DMX for short).  This is in effect an accelerated learning process for developing individual intuition, and relies on defining and working through scenarios.

Training or learning professionals will recognize this case study based approach:

  • There is a narrative description of a scenario that has to be resolved with some contextual background
  • There are some simple rules
  • A visual representation
  • It should be easy to play
  • It is best done as a group, with time pressure
  • There is a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the topic and can either apply additional pressure or keep things light

There are also some significant differences from other case study based exercises:

  • The DMX is best developed by the delegates: typically the delegates will work in more than one group, so that they can play each other’s DMX
  • There is no single correct answer
  • An integral part of the exercise is the follow-up discussion and reflection on what decisions were made, why and how

By mixing people who are expert in a topic with those who are less so, these DMXs could accelerate the development of tacit knowledge and intuition.

‘Pre-mortems’, ‘learning before’ and ‘peer assists’

Klein introduces the idea of ‘pre-mortems’ where a team, having completed its plans for a piece of work – a project – then envisages a scenario where they’ve got to the end of the project to find it has been a spectacular failure.  They then work through why that would have happened, enabling them to identify all the things they should have addressed in an open and constructive way.  Supporters of positive thinking and appreciative enquiry might balk at this approach – and opt instead for a scenario of spectacular success!

Nonetheless, pre-mortems are an approach that practitioners of KM could consider adopting, alongside ‘learning before’ or  ‘peer assists’, which differ from the more inward-looking ‘pre-mortems’ in that visiting teams are consulted to see what the resident team can learn from their previous experience in order to identify and mitigate risks or address issues in their projects and plans.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge management and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

 

Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma (Part 2 of 3 blogs)


Intuition has an important role in process improvement

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

However, as Gary Klein(1) points out, the analytical techniques practiced in Lean Six Sigma also have their shortcomings.  A point also often highlighted to me by participants in process improvement workshops or Kaizen events.

Some of the infrastructure created in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement based programmes can also create some real barriers for intuition.

This blog follows on from part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”, to explore the implications of intuition to these aspects of process improvement.

The limits and strengths of intuition and analytical techniques

The potential for using intuition is limited for example where people do not yet have sufficient expertise in an area, or the area is too complex, or where people may have become ‘blinkered’ and so unable to spot important or subtle cues or patterns.

Conversely, people sometimes try to force-fit analytical techniques in situations where others have the expertise to make judgements.  The use of decision matrices, with weighted criteria can be an example of this(2).  And so some alternatives, suggested by Klein are:

  1. Use intuition first when comparing options e.g. ask people for an initial indication of their preferences – so that this can be used as a ‘sanity’ check on outcomes from an analytical approach
  2. Try a strengths vs. weaknesses approach as an alternative to weighted decision criteria
  3. Use mental simulation of how the options might play out to understand them better
  4. Look for ways to simplify the comparisons: there might be some factors that are really not important
  5. Recognise situations where the difference between options is really too small to make a difference and where it would be better to just pick one rather than continue the evaluation

Barriers to intuition created by process improvement programmes

Process improvement programmes encourage the documentation of procedures (standardized ways of working), using metrics to monitor performance, and automating routine or complex analytical tasks.

These can be extremely effective ways to streamline work, ensure that good practices are re-used, identify when timelines, quality or safety and budgets are at risk, and release people to get on with more creative activities.

However, as Klein points out, they can also not only create barriers to people using their intuition, but they can also gradually undermine what intuitive powers people have.

How to use procedures and intuition

Standardized procedures are essential in regulated environments, and invaluable in helping new staff get up to speed quickly, or as a reminder to those who carry out certain tasks infrequently.  They can also help an organisation ensure that everyone benefits from good practices in how to perform processes effectively and efficiently.  However, as Klein points out, people need to use standardized procedures in a way that keeps them alert to what they are doing, so that they can spot unexpected problems, or opportunities to do things differently i.e. fostering their intuition rather than in effect ‘turning it off’.  Such an attitude will foster continuous improvement and this is also how, as I’ve written elsewhere(3), people can maintain a dynamic between standardization and creativity.  Understanding why the procedures are as they are: the context around them, will help with this, so that this should be an integral part of teaching people about procedures.

How to use metrics and intuition

The same is true for metrics: they have a vital role to play in monitoring performance and in alerting people to risk, but too often metrics are collected for their own sake, and without people having a proper understanding of their purpose or of how to interpret them.  Again, if used intelligently and with awareness, people can foster their intuition and not only derive real value from the metrics, but spot situations when the metrics alone are not enough.

Automation and intuition

With some skill in mental mathematics, our intuition will alert us if calculations done on a calculator or in an excel spreadsheet are tens or hundreds of units out from what we would expect.  However there is a risk when routine analytical tasks, or even more complex ones have been relegated to computers that we will be under-rehearsed or have insufficient expertise to spot problems that might arise.  So where processes or parts of processes are selected for automation as a result of process improvement, we need to find ways to continue to maintain expertise and foster intuition, so that automation does indeed continue to act as a support tool rather than the master of our work!

The third blog of this series will be addressing intuition and knowledge management, and ways in which people can actively enhance their intuitive skills.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or…. Why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings.
  3. Elisabeth Goodman (2010) How Lean can bring real benefits to innovation in Pharmaceutical Research Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ, 8th January 2010, http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=1720
  4. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Intuition revisited: how it could be important to a business environment (Part 1 of 3 blogs)


Intuition does have an important role in business

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

One of my blog readers, Deborah Peluso, kindly pointed me to Gary Klein’s 30+ years of work on intuition with the US marines, firefighters, pilots, software trouble-shooters and business leaders.  I have now read his book, ‘The Power of Intuition”1 which is an impressively substantial reference work, and very enlightening.

As Deb said in her comment to my blog: “I realized that intuition is not magical or mystical. What we call intuition is a label for our observed phenomena that is really just a function of expertise, and expertise is something that we can study, elicit, and use in our knowledge management and change work. And decision analysis has its place in helping to check our gut instincts, provided we have the time and resources to use the tools appropriately.”

This blog, together with my next two, will highlight what I have learnt from Gary Klein’s book about the role of intuition in business in general, and in process improvement and knowledge management specifically.

What is intuition and when can it be useful?

Intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.

Intuition supports us in spotting problems, being creative and innovative, adapting and improvising plans, and making decisions.

Taking each of these in turn:

  • Our ability to spot problems depends on the nature of the problem (how quickly it develops, the level of associated risk), our level of alertness to potential problems, what might be going on around us to affect our alertness, and our level of expertise (or intuition).  As with all applications of intuition, it also depends on how much attention we pay to our ‘gut feelings’: our subconscious alerting us to something being wrong before we consciously recognize it.
  • As Klein points out: intuition is tied to past experience, whereas creativity is not.  He suggests that an intuitive approach to creativity ‘transcends’ past experience!  He suggests that teams look for opportunities in difficult situations and how to build on those as a route to creativity.  So: if the goals or needs to be addressed are clear, potential opportunities (or leverage points) identified, and then connections made between the goals and the opportunities that will work with them – then this will be lead to effective innovation.  Klein calls this ‘directed creativity’, and this does sound like the solution identification exercises that we conduct in Kaizen workshops.
  • Whist Klein accepts the conventional use of plans (for example in project management) to coordinate the work of teams, shape our thinking, work out what’s needed, he emphasizes the importance of being able to improvise and adapt, especially when the unpredictable happens, which it invariably will!

I’ll be discussing the relevance of intuition to decision making in my next blog.

Intuition and process improvement (Lean and Six Sigma)

As I’ve discussed in my other blogs, analytical approaches are still absolutely important. But there will be limits and strengths to these approaches, just as there are barriers to and enablers for intuition.

As I’ve suggested before, there are implications for the tools taught in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement generally); for example in using decision matrices, or documenting procedures (and process mapping), in using metrics.

I’ll be discussing this more fully in the second blog of this series of three.

Intuition and knowledge management

What we may under-estimate is that intuition is not something that you either have or don’t have.  We all have it.  The key is in how we develop and use it.  Gary Klein’s book contains some fascinating implications for knowledge management techniques for example ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

I’ll be discussing this in the third blog of this series.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

 

The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making.


In a previous blog “There’s more to decision making than meets the eye… or why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings“, inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’1, I made a case for the discretionary use of intuition in decision making.  I argued that:

  1. There seems to be a particular role for intuition when: a) encountering very new or different options for which known criteria are just not valid; b) where decisions based on intuition just cannot be explained in a logical way
  2. There are circumstances where it would be quite risky to rely on one’s intuition: a) when under tremendous stress; b) when there is just too much information to be digested; c) where our subconscious ‘houses’ prejudices that we are not conscious of.

Comments from my readers suggested that other practitioners of Lean and Six Sigma also see a role for intuition alongside factual based analysis of problems and root causes, in the evaluation of potential solutions, and in decision making.

Having now read Ben Goldacre’s book ‘Bad Science’2, I have some new reflections to add to this discussion.  Goldacre cites three main problems with intuition.

1. Our brains are conditioned to look for and ‘see’ patterns, and causal relationships where there may be only random noise.

Goldacre gives examples of random sequences of numbers that, when presented to people, ‘reveal’ clusters and patterns when statistical analyses would show that none exist.

The ability to rapidly and intuitively spot patterns of activity, and causal relationships between them, may, in the past, have been an important survival mechanism for humans, but could today be very misleading in process improvement where, for example, we want to make sure that we focus our efforts on addressing the truly significant problems.

Approaches such as Pareto analysis, quantification of issues (or Undesirable Effects – UDEs) and matrix diagrams can help us to review data more objectively and thereby focus on the right things.

2. We have a bias towards positive evidence.

In the words of Francis Bacon, quoted by Goldacre: “It is the peculiar and perpetual error of human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives.”

We are much more likely to pay attention to findings that prove our theories, than to those that do not. That is why, in another quote in Goldacre’s book, Darwin made a point of noting every piece of negative evidence that he came across.

Goldacre expands on this bias further by saying that we:

  1. Overvalue information that confirms our hypotheses
  2. Seek out information that will confirm our hypotheses

Our natural bias towards positive evidence is also why process improvement and change management exercises such as force-field analysis, SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis) and Six Thinking Hats can be so powerful.  Knowledge Management practitioners also make a point of capturing ‘deltas’ or ‘what could be improved’ in learning reviews, retrospects or ‘After Action Reviews’

These tools, when applied to process improvement and decision making, encourage us to think about what might prevent our solutions from succeeding rather than getting carried away by how wonderful they are!  They also help us to present this understanding more clearly in our communication activities or dialogues with our stakeholders (sponsors, colleagues and customers).

3. Our assessment of the quality of new evidence is biased by what we believe.

If we are aware of this potential pitfall we can aim to be more receptive to opposing views.  In a team of people that have been working together for some time, common beliefs may be more predominant than instances of opposing views.

An effective team leader could look out for and encourage differences of opinion as a potential way of overcoming the team’s bias in assessing new evidence.  Discussions with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders could also be very powerful for this.

Conclusion

Now that we know that we can be additionally blinded by our need to see patterns, causal relationships, and confirmatory evidence of what we believe, we need to be doubly cautious in applying intuition for process improvement and decision making.

As change practitioners know, we value resistance from stakeholders as this highlights potential areas for consideration that those implementing the change may be blind to.  We know now that we should also value resistance from stakeholders as a counter-balance to the risks of intuition.

However, we should continue to bear in mind that there is a role for intuition in certain circumstances.

Notes

(1) “Blink.  The power of thinking without thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books, 2007

(2) “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre, Harper Perennial, 2009

(3) Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that uses process improvement and knowledge management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.