March 18, 2011

I guess I’m a (Decision) tree–hugger!

After spending a lot of time looking at a lot of different tools lately, I have decided that DT’s are probably one of the best (obviously, depending on the situation and the information that you have. Their ability to get to the heart of a problem through finances (or utility) is quite amazing, and the structuring of the process is brilliant in that it helps you to ensure that you have covered every eventuality. It is especially good at helping you to avoid the confirmation trap. For example, any time you make a branch, you also have to question if there is an opposite alternative at the very least, if not more completely distinct ones. They are also hard to argue with, and help you make informed decisions based on the likelihood of certain scenarios playing out. The power of decision trees is something that I am unlikely to forget, and they are probably something I will integrate into my general System-2 decision-making methodology.

In terms of helping our team to reach a final decision, about whether to continue or not, and where to locate, they were absolutely invaluable. Of course, the tree doesn’t know anything that you don’t tell it, so qualitative factors are very hard to incorporate, and something like Grid Analysis or Analytical Hierarchy Process are much more appropriate. Similarly, while we did include marketing costs, or factory re-sale gains, other costs that are difficult to estimate, such as the potential training costs of workers for the Exmouth factory, were not included.

So it can be argues that DT’s do not always give you the full picture, which is true. But, you don’t have to take the outcome as fact. Even after evaluating the tree, you need a high degree of judgement to decide what is important or not, and how risky certain paths really are. The chance of the worst case-scenario playing out for Waveriders (so, product doesn’t get developed until Dec 2012, and when production begins in Jan 2014, the market conditions are poor) is around 0.15. That is the only situation under which producing at both factories might be a problem, so it is worth balancing the risk and pursuing that course of action anyway.

However, DT’s are clearly an excellent tool for decision making, and when used correctly, are capable of judging a situation in a way that our own cognitive processes are rarely capable of. Of course, there is still potential for bias, and they are no substitute for experience and good judgement. They cannot be relied upon to actually make the decision, as they will certainly NOT be taking the blame for bad decisions!

March 12, 2011

Group Decisions in the Real World

Not that we need to make this task harder, but while reading earlier, I thought of a complication that would often be present in group decision making in the real world. In our groups, no-one really has their own agenda; we are all working together, collaborating for the group in order to do as well as we can. There are no competing agendas or ulterior motives. Additionally, we are all equals - no one person has any more say than another in theory (that might be different in practice!).

However, within a business for example, many groups might be composed of multi-functional teams, or with management of varying levels of positional power present. Each of these might have different areas of concern, i.e. the finance manager's role might be to cut costs, the engineer might be attempting to maximise quality, the marketing manager might wish to preserve the size of the budget available, etc. So how do the competing agendas of these people affect their decision making, and consequently, the ability of the group to make decisions? There is bound to be some bias in the proceedings. We know that Deming would advise that the best way forward would be to break down the barriers between these people, instill constancy of purpose, and get everyone thinking about the organisations goal as a system, rather than their own. But of course, in practice, this is difficult.

So, I wonder, what would this task have been like if we were all to play a role? Pretty difficult I imagine, to the point that it might even defeat the purpose of trying to use all the tools and work together. However, maybe there is cause to have a seminar on this, or some (LE style) role-playing exercise to explore the challenges of a situation like this?

Tools for deciding, or confusing?

The last few days have been spent clarifying the problem and then trying to understand the tools best suited to solving it. We used a little bit of a methodological approach even in deciding which tools to try (!), and then each person volunteered to try to implement the ones that interested them. Upon meeting again, we attempted to present the results of our findings to each other, most of us thinking that our work had got us to the point where the group might be able to finalise decisions.

How wrong we were!!! Our internal biases had once again led us astray, and into thinking that our work could be without fault, and that each of the others would automatically understand what we had worked on, making the assumption that they had the same tacit knowledge that we did! It's becoming clear to me that managing all kinds of bias is certainly the biggest and most important challenge when making any judgement or decision.

What actually happened was that we found our work either littered with mistakes we hadn't previously seen, or in some cases, the rest of the group held wildly different views when presented with the work we had each done. This meant that much of what we had done turned out to be work in progress rather than the finished article, as so much rework was required! For example, I had largely focused on the decision trees, both for deciding what our options were and working through the possible results of around 8 different resultant scenarios. But, I'd failed to take into account that we might need another tree entirely for choosing the best location, or that sunk costs shouldn't have been included in the expected value calculations...

Once again, that means that after much confusing of our teammates, who might not have known the tools we worked with as well as we did, and realising that even we might not have used them correctly and entirely, or done requisite research, we find ourselves unable to make a decision still! Monday will be an important day for this.

Reflecting back, and thinking about future applications, I think that this will always be a problem. We will often have to present to colleagues entirely unfamiliar with our methods, so it will be crucial to learn how to translate our resuls in a transparent way, making sure to avoid the curse of knowledge. Of course there will be times when we fail to see errors in our work, so it is also very helpful to have colleagues who also know the methods and can check our work. This is quite a common approach in most engineering situations already, but perhaps as managers or leaders, we are not quite so used to this.

March 10, 2011

Am I going to get MORE indecisive?

This module has provided a lot of food for thought so far. I especially always enjoy seeing the links between whatever we are working currently, and what we have seen before. For example, we spoke a lot in Leadership about the ability of leaders to make decisions, and how they should go about doing so, and now we are being given the methods for how. Similarly, we spoke about the difficulties using lessons learned effectively in our PEUSS PMA's, and that the main problem was that tacit knowledge was very difficult to consciously access. Now we see the effects that it can have when the tacit knowledge we hold is based on unconscious biases (related to the concept of mental models in Learning Organisations from CBE!), and these lead to decisions that might seem good at the time, but ultimately result in unforeseen problems.

I am very thankful that we had the chance to test our own judgement. I think that mine came out relatively well, in that I was right a little more than half the time (but don't tell my girlfriend that it was that low! :P), but it was relatively clear to me, and probably most of us, that we're not right about things nearly half as much as we think we are. System 1 lets us down, and that is where the need for System 2-type methods present themselves, of which we are currently discovering so much. However, I have a concern about all this - while it's good that I'm currently questioning a lot more of the decisions I make, is it counter-productive to question yourself constantly. If you can never rely on your System 1, that arguably makes your ability to respond to new developments in general much worse!

Still, I fully accept the need that it is better to question judgement, and understand our internal motivations, than blindly assume correctness, but it also makes it harder to function...

March 02, 2011

Can there be such a thing as too green?

I don't have the energy for a full-on entry right now, but this very interesting blog article caught my attention and I wanted to share it. In the light of our recent work on CSR, and Jack Welch's management policies, it is a very interesting read. I'll come clean, the reason I found it was that I just made an application to work for GE, and it was part of my research...:P But it seems to me that they're headed in a much better direction than they used to be...haha!

What are your thoughts?

February 25, 2011

Learning leadership lessons

I am a little sad that the module is over, it was truly one of the most rewarding periods of study I have ever attempted :-) Of course, I know that nothing is really over. I will continue to learn about leadership for the rest of my life, the PMA will just be the next major step. I say major, because I am conscious that leadership is really just about engaging with people about ideas that you have, and I will have many, many opportunities to do that in the next six weeks, for sure!

I just decided to self-assess my performance as a leader during the last week, and was quite surprised by the results. By my count, we attempted five team exercises/simulations. I put myself forward as a potential leader four times, which quite coincidentally, all happened to be occasions when there were elements of competition between teams. Of these four (so not including 'Coffee Time' which was hugely valuable in itself), I was given the opportunity to lead three times. Of the three I lead, my team performed best twice, and second best once. On the other occasion, when I was a (proactive! :P) follower, my team also performed best, to the point that we became the first team in the history of Paul's experience with the exercise (which I assume goes back at least 5-10 years) to actually successfully complete. I could go on, but this already sounds quite crass and self-congratulatory to the point that people might start to hate my cocky attitude (:P), so I'll leave it with this: I didn't realise that I had that in me.

It could quite easily have been a fluke, and it might well reflect the fact that I was lucky to work with the people I did, because everyone always worked together quite well. But I won't deny that it gives me a huge amount of confidence in myself. I never really felt before, like I was capable of just jumping into any situation, knowing I'd be able to deal with it.

To introduce a problem to a team. To set my vision of what to achieve. To decide things together and not jump all over people's creativity, but also to know when to push my assertiveness more in the interest of the shared goals. To manage resources and time effectively. To try and coach people rather than tell them things they could/should do. To actively listen to others and put their suggestions into practice for the benefit of the team. To manage information quickly, and make decisions that reflect the best course of action. To put mistakes behind you before they drag morale down. To know when to refocus resources if a decision has not panned out the way you hoped.

Etc, etc, etc. These are just a few of my lessons learned, I know that I will be able to add to this list ad. infinitum

February 23, 2011

Welcome to Hai Pong Inn

I feel like I'm starting to get it now, regarding leadership. I am getting a sense of what works and what doesn't and why, and we are only two days into this module week. I can't wait to see how much more I am able to get out of this fascinating period of learning (study would be the wrong word).

I will put this down partly to really wanting to get better at this. Today, I felt terrible - I was so tired. When Paul said some of would need to volunteer after lunch, I was very tempted to sit back and let someone else have a go. Particularly because I have had a few chances to be leader already, and it would have been fairer at least. Over lunch, I reminded myself about why I am doing this module - it was not really about sitting back.

So, I put myself forward. And I am so glad I did. I enjoyed the simulation immensely, the time flew by, and my team worked together fantastically to create a great outcome that we could all be proud of. I put into practice learning points from previous sessions such as being more assertive, outlining a clear vision for everyone to strive towards from the beginning, and made sure to manage the time well. As ever, there was room for improvement, and I learned from today that some of my team members would have preferred me to take a riskier approach for higher gains. With hindsight, I see their point, but I'm also quite happy with my incremental, sustainable, and balanced approach, that created greater returns year on year, and ingrained a way of working in the team that was positive, structured, and a joy to be a part of.

I hope I am as lucky in the future; the ability of my team to become something more than their collective parts and double the occupancy rates, while increasing the operating profit sevenfold in a 1.5 year period was quite remarkable, and but for one other team, would have been the best result by any team in the history of that simulation in MBE. That is performance to be proud of.

So, I know that I will never stop becoming a better leader, with every experience I can build on. But I'm starting to see it in slower motion, much like Paul's analogy of Rafa Nadal, and you can all be sure I will volunteer myself as a leader as often as I get the opportunity to.

February 21, 2011

I'd make a terrible dictator, and other revelations.

Wow! Good first day of the module week. I thought it had been quite a short day, but upon reflection of each of the sessions now, I'm almost shocked at how many things I learned. I'm enjoying this module a lot so far, I hope it continues in the same vein...

One of the first lessons was a private one. It transpires that I can't be an autocratic type leader! This wasn't much use to the rest of the class (I'm sorry everybody), but no matter how I tried to make myself take complete control and stamp my authority on all the situations I was meant to, in many cases, something internal overrode this requirement, and I went back to the way I naturally am: participative and democratic. I couldn't change, even if it was just a temporary act. I have a theory about this further down. I later asked the question "what if someone finds is hard to use their positional power?" (assuming all other engagement tactics have failed, and in which case it's not positional power really, but just authority). The question was passed around a bit, which annoyed me because I was really hoping someone would come up with something, as the problem had plagued me when I failed as an autocrat. Eventually, James stepped forward, and stunned me with the thought that if someone couldn't use that power, it was probably due to weak strength of character! I really appreciated this insight (so thanks James!), because I've always considered myself to have a strong character, but this made me realise that in this department, I need to find it in myself to be tougher when the situation requires. I know I'm on the right track here, because earlier, the group had given me assertiveness as an area for improvement. Very revealing...

The seminar followed, and it came out that really, whether it comes to managing strong types, or your leader, it's all about engagement. Sure, in the latter case, there may be some risk attached, and you have to weigh potential consequences, and make a difficult and painful decision sometimes, but I suppose if being a leader was easy, everybody would be able to do it. If you can't engage, after many repeated attempts, eventually there may have to be a confrontation, and as a strong person and leader yourself, you need to be ready to stand your ground, own the situation, and be ready for what may happen. What you can't expect to do, is change someone's personality! I think THIS had been my problem earlier in the day: being an autocrat was just too at odds with who I am. And I was always a rubbish actor ;-)

The afternoon gave me first real experience of followership, in a while. Too often in this course (and in my wider life of the last few years), I feel I become a leader by default. People will look to me to take charge sometimes, and won't step forward themselves. Of course, I like being a leader, and none of this is a bad thing (or an indictment of any of my colleagues). I guess it means I must be at least decent at it, but it does also mean that I rarely sit back and experience someone else leading me, which is also nice sometimes :-) Anyway, to be honest, we gave Fani hell! She didn't make it easy for herself to begin with, but with time, she was able to take a step back and achieve a compromise with us all. She did well, and I know she was able to take a lot away from it (particularly when it comes to managing what information everyone has and actively listening to her followers), which is great!

What techniques are there for managing cultural and organizational diversity?

As the world becomes a smaller place, and we find ourselves working with different people from all walks of life, this becomes an increasingly important topic. I couldn't find any techniques as such, but the most important underlying theme was to do with effective communication. People from different cultural/organisational backgrounds will obviously have different ways of doing things, due to varying standards, expectations or norms.

The best way to combat any difficulties that might arise from this is to make sure that people understand each other. Effective communication crosses the boundaries, and help people to empathise with the position of others, and why certain things are important to certain people.

An inclusive environment also helps. People who feel welcome to be themselves are likely to be happier than those forced to live a lie. This may require an open mind on the part of a manager, along with a readiness to compromise and be adaptable to the needs of different types of people.

Brownell (2003) felt that self-monitoring, empathy, and strategic-decision making are important. The first is the awareness one has of how their behaviour affects others, and their willingness to change this based on the impact. The second is the ability of those on the end of communication to go beyond the spoken words to understand what is really meant, based on the communicator's background (feelings, values, assumptions and needs). The last relates to which channels of communication are used, and why. Certain ones will work better on/for certain people. 

Mor Barak (2010) agrees with many of these themes. She also adds that managers should use their knowledge of cultural differences to aid their understanding of what helps facilitate effective communication, and what can create barriers to it.

Brownell, Judi (2003). Developing Receiver-Centered Communication in Diverse Organizations. Listening Professional, 2(1), 5-25

Mor Barak, Michalle E. (2010). Managing Diversity:Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. Sage

How do you manage people with strong personalities?

Well, the first thing that strikes me about this topic, is that working with people who have strong personalities is not necessarily a bad thing. From the context of leadership, it can actually be a very good thing, particularly if they share your vision and ideals.

From my own experience, and some quick research, I think there are some do's and don'ts regarding managing or leading a strong personality types. These are in no way exhaustive, or necessarily applicable to all situations:

Don't - 

  • Expect them to change, or think you can change them. Their personality is who they are, and any attempts you make will probably cause resentment on their part. 
  • Try to take the moral highground on an issue - it often leads to the other person getting defensive, making them unlikely or unwilling to cooperate with you later.
  • Make assumptions about why they act a certain way.
  • Try to control them, or show who's boss with displays of power, whether aggressively, or passively by making demeaning remarks to them or others about them. That shows weakness and insecurity.

Do - 

  • Manage your own emotions first of all. Understanding why you feel a certain way is important. Also, taking the time to make sure you are calm means you will act in a rational way. Instant, emotional responses are often destructive and uncontrolled.
  • Target the specific behaviours that you have a problem with. This is not the same as trying to redefine their personality. Addressing things like this in an open, honest, direct, but non-confrontational or blaming way (with reasons for why they are detrimental if possible) leads to positive results.
  • Get them focused on the goals that matter to you, by showing especially how they themselves might benefit. Strong personality types are often strongly goal-oriented, and so really motivated by new ideas and challenges.
  • Show strength and confidence, through assertiveness, body language, speech and tone of voice. People respond instinctively to these alpha characteristics, providing they appear natural rather than forced or over-the-top.
  • Stand your ground when you have made up your mind and don't back down easily.
  • But, always be open to suggestions, and ready to act on them. It conveys respect for their opinion, and by extension, them.
  • Praise them publicly, but only when they have done something that warrants this and they know it's not false.
  • Avoid or downplay conflict.

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