Leadership Barometer 37 Five Mistakes Using Data

February 10, 2020

The Great Quality Guru, W. Edwards Deming had a lot to say about how managers use data incorrectly and waste the resources of an organization.

It was part of his philosophy of quality which he called “profound knowledge.” He stressed a number of mistakes typically made by managers when handling data. Here are some of the problems along with the antidote for each misuse.

Mistake 1 – Assuming variation is a result of special cause variation when it is really due to common cause variation.

Common cause variation is when a system is in statistical control with small random type variation occurring.

The only way to tell if a system is in control is to consider all the data, usually by plotting it, and finding out if the data variation is within certain defined bounds, called “control limits.”.

If it is in control, then for managers to ask people to explain the variation is simply a waste of their time. People will dutifully go off and try to find out what caused the variation, but the answer will be only a guess and not valid information.

When one or more data points go outside the control limits of normal variability, then there is a special cause. In these cases, it is not only possible but vital to determine what caused the variation so it can be controlled and eliminated in the future.

Most managers fail to determine if a signal is due to special cause variation when they ask underlings to explain what happened. This causes a large waste of effort and time and it lowers trust.

Mistake 2 – Assessing the capability of a process based on the most recent data point.

It is tempting to react to the most recent data and ask people to take corrective action based on that. At home, we might say, it’s cold in here, why not turn up the heat?

But just because it is cold at the moment does not mean the system needs to be adjusted. It may be the low point of the cycle that is in common cause variation. In which case, if we turn up the thermostat, we are doing what Deming called “tampering.”

Tampering is defined as moving the set point of a system experiencing common cause variation in an attempt to reduce the variation. In fact, it can be demonstrated that “chasing” the perfect setting will result in a large increase in the variation of the process. It is better to leave things alone.

Many of us have experienced this when sitting in a meeting. All of a sudden someone will say, “Whew, it is very warm in here” and turn down the thermostat. Ten minutes later people in the room are reaching for their sweaters because they are chilled, so up goes the thermostat.

All day long people fiddle with the darned thermostat and swear at the heating system. The problem resides in the fingers of the people playing with the setting, not the furnace control. They are tampering, which results in roughly double the temperature variation than if they just left things alone.

Mistake 3 – Interpreting two points as a trend

This flaw is ingrained so deeply into the fabric of our thinking that we rarely even realize how stupid most statements of movement really are. Every day we read in the paper or hear on the news something like the earnings for Company X are up by 20%. We think that is a good thing. Rubbish!

All it means is that in comparison to four quarters ago the earnings are 20% higher. It says nothing about the actual trend of the data. For knowledge of how the company is doing, we need to plot the data and consider the quarterly earnings over something like 8 consecutive quarters. Only then we can know what is really going on.

Many advertisements for products are based on the faulty logic that two points make a trend. When we hear that interest rates on mortgages is down by ½ point, that is a symptom of two points equaling a trend. We really cannot use that data to imply what has been happening to interest rates in the past or is likely to happen in the future.

Mistake 4 – Looking for blame rather than root cause

When something goes wrong, managers often focus on who messed up and why rather than what aspect of the system was the root cause so it can be fixed. They think if they can pinpoint the culprit and punish him or her that will eliminate problems in the future.

Actually, the reverse is true. By trying to find a scapegoat, people tend to hide the truth and work to pin blame on other people to protect their own interests. That leads to infighting, conflict, and other disruptive behavior.

Mistake 5 – Too much automation of process data.

This issue is counter intuitive. One would think that data plotted and interpreted by computers would be superior to that plotted by hand.

In fact, data where people have been involved in the process is more useful, because people have the ability to spot peripheral issues and correct them where a computer will just keep logging rubbish.

When people rely on the machine always being right, there can be disastrous results because, at the root of it, the machines are controlled by people, but once programmed, people tend to rely too much on the machine and forget to check for sanity.

That situation is how pilots occasionally fly into the side of a mountain, because they rely too much on the dumb auto pilot and forget to watch where they are going.

When we take the time to use data correctly, we normally build higher trust within an organization, because people are not being asked to resolve a figment or ghost of a real issue.

These 5 mistakes are the most common ones. There are other symptoms of how managers use data incorrectly to the detriment of their organization and the people. The antidote for each of these problems is to make sure managers are educated on these flaws and modify their behaviors to avoid the pitfalls.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 20 Lower Credibility Gap

October 16, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lowers Credibility Gap

In any organization there exist credibility gaps between layers. These gaps lower the trust within the organization and make good communication more difficult. Great leaders have a knack for lowering these gaps by filling in believable information in both directions: up and down.

When there is tension between one layer and another, great leaders work to find out the root cause of the disconnect.

It could be a nasty rumor, it could be based on a prior breach of trust, it might be an impending reorganization or merger, it could be due to an outside force like a new government restriction. Whatever the root cause will determine the key to elimination of the gap.

Use your nose

Excellent leaders have a nose for these problems and head them off while the gap is a small crack and before it becomes like the Grand Canyon. They help people breach the divide by getting the two levels to communicate and really negotiate a better position.

Weak leaders are more like victims who wait till the battle is raging and the chasm is too broad to cross without a major investment in a bridge.

Silo thinking vs. Team mates

The insight that usually helps is to remind the differing camps that they are really on the same team.  Silo thinking leads to animosity between groups.  Great leaders remind people that they share common goals at a higher level. There is no need for warfare.

A leader who has this skill is easy to spot because there are few paralyzing situations that have to be resolved. If you are one of those leaders, it will be evident. If you are not, it will also be evident. Seek to knit the organization together at every opportunity.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Difference Between Micromanagement and Harrassment?

April 16, 2019

Two words that get used a lot these days are micromanagement and harassment. If you are being micromanaged, you will usually experience feelings of being harassed.

Conversely, if you are experiencing harassment, most of the time it is not due to micromanagement.

This article dissects the two concepts and provides some guidance for managers who, despite their good intentions, often end up doing more harm than good.

Harassment

Harassment is the abusive behavior toward another person that has its roots in a desire to annoy or hurt the other individual in some way. The practice is normally intentional, although it is possible for a person to harass other people without being aware it is happening. Harassment is close to the concept of bullying, and it is becoming more prevalent with electronic communication, especially among adolescents.

Except in the rare extreme cases, the manifestation of harassment exists first in the opinion of the person who is being harassed. If I will not let you get to me no matter what you do, then you are not going to be very successful at harassing me.

In fact, I may get a perverse pleasure out of thwarting your attempts to bother me: a kind of reverse harassment.

On the other hand, you may be such a sensitive individual that the mere thought of a certain person walking into the room sends you into a flight of panic: a kind of self harassment called paranoia.

We are all aware of the destructive nature of harassment that evokes anything from mild discomfort all the way to suicide. The distress is always amplified if the person being harassed believes he or she cannot escape and has to endure continual suffering.

Micromanagement

Micromanagement usually doesn’t stem from sinister motives. To the contrary, it is normally the desire of a manager, or person in charge of getting things done, who wants things to go well but is misguided in the best way to accomplish the task.

It reminds me of my favorite Star Trek Quote when Mr. Spock says,

“It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.” (TOH Charlie Green).

The micromanager is not trying to annoy the victim (usually) but only trying to get things done according to his or her warped definition of how to accomplish the objective. In the process, of course, the victim has to endure the constant meddling that feels very much like harassment.

We are all aware of the antidote for micromanagement, which is for the manager to set the objective and some broad guidelines and then back off to let the individual figure out the details on how to get the job done.  The manager might say, “I’m not going to hover over you while you get this done, but I’m available if you need me.”

Unfortunately, a little concept called “trust” is missing, so the manager does not believe the individual is capable of getting the job done without constant supervision. This lack of trust is the root cause of most micromanagement.

We deal with the manifestations of micromanagement to some degree in most work settings. It is only the most extreme high trust environments where managers are willing to actually stand by and let subordinates do things wrong in order to learn what does not work.

We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

They would rather intervene and at least suggest that holding the soldering iron by the pointed end might not be the best method. I use that extreme case because the motive of the manager in this case is to prevent the employee from doing bodily harm. What could be more noble than that?

Often what feels like micromanagement to the employee is done for the benefit of the employee.

The grey area between good intentions and oppressive hovering is playing out in the workplace every hour of every day. Managers find their own equilibrium, and employees either complain (or not) behind the break room doors. Eventually a good employee will get tired of the intrusion and simply leave the organization. This reaction is a prime cause of the disruptive and expensive problem called turnover.

The extreme case, where managers tell people how to do their work for the sport of always getting it done their way, crosses the line into harassment. Even if the conscious objective is to get the job “done right,” the spirit with which the manager directs every movement is debilitating.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 79 Trust and Solving Problems

June 10, 2018

In his famous video series, “Do Right,” Lou Holtz, the master motivational speaker and football coach said, “One thing I know that’s universal is you are going to have problems.” For supervisors, many days seem like an endless stream of problems to resolve. This article links the solving of problems to the concept of trust.

Solving Problems if Trust is Low

When trust is lacking, problems are more difficult and time consuming to solve for several reasons:

1. Difficult to identify the real problem

When trust is low, people are working around the interpersonal issues, and often the facts are hidden from view. People will protect or horde information to protect their parochial interests.

You can observe people in lengthy and hot debates where they do not even address the real problem.

2. Solutions are not the most creative

People will not be willing to share their most creative solutions to problems because they are fearful of being ridiculed or ignored. They may only offer what they believe the boss wants to hear.

3. People playing games

Individuals are on guard and actually play head games with each other because they are not convinced the other person’s viewpoints are to be respected. They will put band aids on the symptoms to get out of a tight spot, but not take the opportunity to resolve the root cause.

4. Often problems recur

Since the real problem is often pushed aside, it may return again or even several times because the root cause is still in play. This is particularly discouraging to supervisors because there are not adequate resources to resolve the same problems over and over again.

Solving Problems if Trust is High

When trust is high, solving problems is both quicker and the solutions are more robust for the following reasons:

1. There is full data disclosure

People are not hiding information from each other to protect themselves. They freely share what has been going on so that a real and lasting solution can be invented.

2. People are interested in progress rather than finding a scape goat

With a culture of high trust, people want to get to an excellent resolution as quickly as possible. There is no desire to stretch things out, and there is no need to blame one person or group for the problems.

3. There is pride in solving problems well

High trust groups take real pride in being able to get past problems and enjoy fewer of them in the future. Creative solutions lead to permanent fixes to issues rather than the illusion of progress.

Solving problems if you have a culture of high trust is infinitely better and faster than if you work in a group with low trust. That impacts productivity and morale in a positive way every single day. Make sure to foster a culture of high trust and reap the benefits in your organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763