Monday, October 20, 2008

National Defense University 2

Last Friday’s blog ended with a description of a predictive business formula for reforming operations: Q x A = E, where Q is quality, A is acceptance, E is effectiveness, and should the acceptance of the workforce of a reform package ever reach zero, the = sign guarantees ineffectiveness of the changes no matter how brilliant the original idea for reform.

The formula, of course, is nothing more than a hoax insofar as it expresses no scientific truth even though at first glance – such is the strength of our deference to science – its simplicity suggests it might. Yet it does represent an “eternal truth” that most adults “learn” (an instinctive recognition) early in their working lives: the more people that buy-into (accept) a course: of action or a reform project, the greater the chances of successfully implementing the change because the majority are stakeholders who will work to ensure success.
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This, in turn, removes the critical part of any reform effort from the physical to the perceptual world. The more complex the change, the clearer the explanation has to be of of what the change accomplishes for the " product" and the specific benefits that will accrue to those implementing the reform. (Conversely, at least in the business world, never mention what you “gain.) Moreover, reform advocates need to watch reactions (body language): are the listeners cautious, enthusiastic, or negative to the changes? The greater the resistance, the more effort must be made to discover what is driving the reluctance.

At this point, three errors can occur. The “reform” champions understate the total effect of the reforms (not known even to the reformers given the propensity for unknown unknowable to occur); in the drive to overcome what seems to be irrational resistance the pro-reform faction strays from explanation into propaganda and become trapped in their own rhetoric; or they refuse to offer (or accept) course of action that could, in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost “field test” the reform. In short, a possibly powerful positive idea suddenly becomes one of the more dangerous forces on the planet for the simple reason that it allows no other ideas or possibilities to exist.

The “scientific” conceit of Q x A = E lies in the belief that possession of “facts” guarantees a high value Q. Facts are important; they are the currency of advancement up the ladder to military, corporate, and government leadership positions. Ironically, those who attain high office in business and government will rely more on “feeling” about proposals to “reform” practices, programs, and products. The importance of this factor is that the “act” of acceptance is based on feeling that “something is right” more than on a litany of “facts.” In turn, as one conferee noted, business chiefs who believe that intuition or instinct were valuable instruments in their rise up the corporate ladder will continue to prefer relying on their own intuition.

Next: What are alternatives?

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