The Value of Analysis Done Right

Recently, I “re-discovered” that analytical skills are not common. In fact, a recent assignment demonstrated that many people tend to skim the surface and propose recommendations without doing the necessary analytical work.

Now, this may sound like a really good thing – why go through all the trouble of analyzing when you know what needs doing? The way I see it, there are several problems with this approach.

The first problem is that providing recommendations without investigation and evidence will result in “band aid” solutions. What organization wants to mop up the spill without finding and fixing the leak?  

The second problem is that without an examination and explanation of the situation, there is a lack of clarity about what constitutes a problem. Even more important, the root cause of the problem may be missing. 

The third problem is that recommendations built on instinct are not valid. While your judgment may be accurate, not everyone thinks like you do. That is why careful examination and explanation of the situation is required to draw meaningful recommendations.  

Applying analytical thought requires one to look at a situation objectively. Analysis goes beyond describing what is occurring (many people are good at this part). It provides both an examination and explanation of the situation. And examinations and explanations require asking and answering several questions about the situation. The most common question is “why.” 

There are several ways to conduct an analysis, but here are a few simple steps that can help you “collect” your thoughts for easier review. The steps also provide a basis for solid analysis.

  1. Collect data about the situation and place it in an “issues template.” A spreadsheet is useful for this purpose.  
    1. Give your template four headings: Issue, Possible Causes, Other Relationships and Impacts, Possible Resolutions.
    2. Based on your data, list all the issues you uncover under the “issue” column. When completed, start “analyzing” one issue at a time and complete the related columns for that issue – i.e., possible causes, other relationships and impacts, and possible resolutions.
    3. Group your issues into major categories, as appropriate. (You may have main issues and sub-issues).
  2. Using your “issues template,” examine and explain the following (this will comprise your report).
    1.  Situation. Discuss the situation where the issue exists. Use evidence from your data to support your discussion about the situation(s).
    2. Relationships and Impacts. Based on the situation discussion, include possible relationships and impacts that are influencing the situation. As well, discuss how the situation is impacting (or potentially impacting) other areas of the organization.
    3. Needs/Recommendations. Based on your discussion of the above and taking into consideration possible causes and possible resolutions for the issue, discuss what needs to happen in the organization to correct the issue.

If you are able to support your recommendations with evidence from your analysis, then it is easier to convince readers that your recommendations are valid. In the words of Edward Deming, “In God we trust, but for everything else, bring data.”

Whenever I Have a Problem, I’m Around

(My thanks to Patrick Davidson for the idea for the blog title.)

Are you a player? Or are you a victim?

If you’re a player, you choose to resolve problems. If you’re a victim, you act as if there is no choice and accept everything that is thrown your way. Whether one can say they have a problem is based solely on their perception of the situation.

Problems are not things. They cannot be held. Rather, they are perceptions of things. They can be seen as situations to avoid or as opportunities to embrace. Victims see problems as obstacles that cannot be overcome and use language such as “should” or “not fair.” Players, on the other hand, embrace problems as opportunities for change.

Every organization needs players. Why? Players are the change agents without whom organizations die. Players help others in your organization interact in a way that leads to shared beliefs and values which in turn leads to shared organizational goals and behaviours. Beliefs and values drive behaviour.

For example, organizations with shared beliefs of consistency, fairness, communication, and team involvement will display those beliefs through improved productivity, improved quality, increased group morale, and increased individual satisfaction across the organization. In organizations that do not have these behaviours, players are needed to help organizations change their beliefs.

If you’re not a player in your organization, here are ten things you can do right now to move toward becoming a player. In turn, you will be helping yourself and your organization change for the better.

  1. Buy part of the problem to be part of the solution. That is, see the problem for what it is – an opportunity to improve. Get involved in creating the solution.
  2. Grow through adversity. It takes a lot of emotional strength to grow into a player. Get rid of negative language (e.g., should, must, unfair, unjust, etc.). Use positive language (e.g., could, might, fair, just, etc.).
  3. Use pain and frustration to build strength. Ask “what challenges am I facing?” rather than “what happened to me?”
  4. Do not blame. Do not judge. Take responsibility for the process in your organization. It doesn’t matter who created the process.
  5. For each solution, ask “what worked well?” and “what could have been improved?”
  6. Learn from your experiences. The only failure is the one where you do not learn from your mistakes.
  7. Share information before it is needed. Openness and transparency create a trusting and proactive environment.
  8. Take initiative. Don’t wait to be asked to do something.
  9. Give credit where credit is due. Praising others for their contribution, no matter how small, will go a long way to building trust. As Patrick Davidson points out, a kind word and a thoughtful gesture are the two most powerful things in existence. Use them and use them often.
  10. Use common sense to build common practice. That is, build upon all of the above points to implement effective and efficient practices in your organization.

Implementing the above will help you build space, safety, and comfort in the organization so that others become players. In essence, you’re changing the beliefs and values of the organization one person at a time until all behaviours align to create a quality culture of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. This is how one changes organizational culture.

Next time you encounter a problem, stick around. It’s a perfect opportunity to grow, learn, and improve your player skills.