Facts that Matter

“Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in public and private life, have been the consequences of action without thought.”— Bernard Baruch

In earlier posts I have written about making the best decisions and described it as matter of understanding and determining:

1. What are the facts that matter? Facts start out as data, through analysis becoming knowledge and insights, and are separated into those that bear on the problem and those that do not. Over time, patterns emerge. Wisdom develops as the ability to recognize complex and dynamic patterns hidden in data, even hidden in knowledge, to apply a broader perspective.

2. What do those facts mean, what are their implications? What will be their effects, the second and third order consequences, the choices, and results?

3. What do we do about it?  What is the leader’s decision; the action directed?  When, by whom, over what period of time, how, with whom, and to what ultimate end?  What risks are we willing to take in order to achieve a greater purpose?  What do we choose not to do?

Since so much of what matters to sound decision making starts with getting the facts that matter, this post is a discussion of that.  I define the leader’s action continuum as a sequence of events along which the decision making process normally moves.  It begins with data, through some refinement process to information, then knowledge, later on, and wisdom/judgment.  All of this progression leads to a decision, then action, and finally assessment of the action and the process starts over.

It is noticeable that I didn’t mention supposition, presumption, belief, expectation, conjecture, speculation, surmises, guesses, premises, hypotheses, preconceived conclusions, deductions, inferences, notions or impressions.  But unbelievably, many companies and organizations operate and guide themselves with these things more often than a well-founded and fact based decision making process.  As the leader of many organizations large and small, I called many staff meetings “fact-free discussions” or “fact-lite discussions”.

The propensity of many staffs and organizational processes is to do exactly this; to substitute what should be facts, reality, truth, specifics, details, and “news you can use” for assumptions, and worse.  It will eventually deal a major blow to any leader who does not:

  • Understand where she/he is on the continuum at the beginning of the issues.
  • Ask the right questions, the questions that place the issue in the larger context of the mission and organization. Start with “Why?”, “How?”, and “What?” (There is an excellent new book called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek)
  • Demand the research and analysis that takes the matter at hand and organization from data through the entire continuum to information, wisdom/judgment, decision(s), action, and assessment.
  • Review the research and analysis in light of the outcome and ask “How can we do this better next time?”. That’s how organizations learn and improve.

What we see depends mostly on what we look for.  Leaders need to constantly look for and demand all the right facts; the facts that matter.

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” — Peter Drucker

“Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous.” — Peter Drucker

Keith Stalder, #45

Copyright © 2015 Keith Stalder & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Keith Stalder has over 40 years of leadership experience in organizations from the very large and established to small technology start ups and everything in between.  With a broad and deep appreciation for, and understanding of, the fundamental challenges of organizations and businesses, both in government and the private sectors, his passion is to help all organizations become all that they aspire to.  He is the founder of Keith Stalder and Associates, LLC, a company dedicated to advancing organizational visions and fundamentally transforming how businesses everywhere are run.  Visit www.ksaintegration.com for more information. 

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