Posts Tagged ‘goals’

by Richard Martin

An engineer employed by Google—James Damore—was recently fired for writing and circulating an internal memo criticizing aspects of Google’s diversity policies, specifically corporate goals regarding the ratio of women and men in software work. I won’t go into the details of the arguments for and against, except to illustrate how the selection of the aim has an impact on the scope and validity of the ways and means of achieving it.

My purpose is to look at the structure and logic of the problem to show that the objective conditions and delineates the analysis of the problem, how it is resolved, and what are considered acceptable and unacceptable questions and factors for consideration, planning, and decision-making. This newsletter is longer than usual because I think a failure to understand the logic of arguments and reasoning underlie most social and organizational conflict. This can in turn have a major impact on performance and readiness.

Google’s objective appears to be (approximately) equal numbers of men and women in software development, programming and engineering. It follows that only options which have a realistic chance of achieving that aim should be developed and considered for implementation. Anything that questions that objective should not be considered any further as it may undermine its achievement and take resources from better uses.

Damore’s memo didn’t question gender equality in itself, rather the wisdom of Google’s goal in service of that aim. His questions and skepticism weren’t addressed at the ways and means of achieving the aim, but rather at the goal itself. In other words, Damore’s memo was at a different logical level than the stated Google policy. If you set the goal as a 50/50 split of men and women in engineering and other technical jobs, and that’s non-negotiable, then it follows that you must, of necessity, consider only alternatives that can achieve that. On the other hand, if the goal is gender/sexual equality in general, then aiming for 50/50 split may or may not be a realistic or desirable way of achieving that.

This is where values and underlying beliefs come into play. In terms of beliefs, there are three big assumptions leading to the Google objective of 50/50 split. IF men and women have equal capabilities (in any meaningful and statistically significant sense), and IF there is no coercion (explicit and/or implicit), and IF there is no stereotyping (subtle or not so subtle) in hiring and managerial practices by Google or any other employers, then it follows that aiming for an equal split (or close thereto) between men and women is a desirable and achievable goal.

All three of these IFS are empirical questions that can be answered through rigorous research and analysis. For the record, my personal belief is that any statistically significant capability and performance differences that are demonstrated scientifically between men and women are merely of academic interest IF AND ONLY IF there is no coercion and no stereotyping. With that said, capability, coercion and stereotyping can be slippery concepts. Ideology can influence all three, especially coercion, as it is related to power and hierarchical relationships.

So much for the underlying assumptions and beliefs. What about values? In a culture that values well-defined sex roles, it follows that sexual/gender differences, coercion, and stereotyping won’t even be questioned. They will simply be assumed and justified, usually based on what is viewed as common sense and custom. We on the other hand, live in a society that values sexual and gender equality. Why? Because we have an even higher level value which we call freedom of choice. We believe that anyone should be allowed (and even encouraged) to choose whatever education, job, and career that they want. And what someone wants should be defined by whatever mix of challenge, interest, satisfaction, pleasure, ease, investment, and compensation they find most appealing at any specific time, so long as there is demand for that work, and it doesn’t undermine someone else’s goals through coercion or stereotyping. All this follows necessarily from our western values of individualism and self-actualization.

If we value freedom of choice, then it follows that people should be allowed and encouraged to choose whichever career they deem most acceptable and satisfactory to them. However, this may or may not result in a 50/50 split, either within any specific organization, or society in general. It could be 10/90, 60/40, 49.999/50.001, or another other ratio. And that’s only in one specific work area, in this case software-related jobs.

I have no doubt that Google’s senior managers believe firmly in sexual and gender equality. I would also bet that most, if not all, its leaders and employees hold deeply to the values of non-coercion, non-stereotyping, and freedom, at least as regard career and occupational choice. Google has apparently chosen to pursue a 50/50 split between men and women as the means of achieving the goal of gender equality and diversity. From that perspective, the Damore memo can undermine its implementation and achievement.

On the other hand, Damore raises some interesting questions. Can Google’s stated policies and goals generate coercion and stereotyping of men? Can the 50/50 goal lead to a kind of affirmative action where capable men are being sidelined by less-than-capable women? Could this undermine the company’s long-term viability, sustainability, and culture of performance? By adopting a quantitative goal, is Google trying to solve a social problem that it didn’t create and for which it may not be well adapted?

I don’t have the answers to such questions, and I suspect no one else does either, at least not in the short term. But aren’t they worth asking and examining? By firing Damore, Google has sent a clear message that the decision to pursue literal sexual/gender equality is taken and will not be undermined. Management has taken a stand will not brook internal opposition or questioning. The train has left the station. On the other hand, Damore raises valuable questions from the standpoint of corporate governance and societal change. It’s not Google’s job to solve all of society’s problems, but nor can the issues be ignored by such a big and influential economic player.

My purpose here has been to analyze the logical structure of the problem and the goals these lead to. I chose the Google-Damore case because it allowed me to highlight what I consider to be the most salient aspects of decision-making and management. I’ve shown how goals are conditioned by values, assumptions, and beliefs, and that goals then limit or expand the problem space. We must choose our goals judiciously and calibrate them to our underlying beliefs and values, as this directly influences the scope and validity of our plans and readiness to implement them.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Last month I wrote about one of the two fundamental principles that underlie all other principles of business battle: following the path of least resistance. The other is selection and maintenance of the aim or, simply, the principle of the objective. I’ve described this in great detail in my book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles, but I’d like to give you a summary of this principle and include some tips about using it to frame your own objectives for 2013 and beyond.

Objectives are essential because they force us to concentrate on the direction and outcomes of all of our actions. This is as crucial in business as it is in war, politics, economics and personal life. Without objectives, we squander valuable resources, including money, time, alliances, friendships, family support, and most important of all, opportunities. We can wander aimlessly for a long time without focusing our efforts and concentrating our minds on a set of objectives and definite major purpose.

Everyone and every organization must have objectives at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. They will describe the key outcomes, i.e., what must be achieved, and why these outcomes are needed. Although it is sometimes necessary to include broad parameters for achieving objectives, such as constraints (musts) and restraints (must nots), it is generally better to not specify the ‘how’ too closely. This provides an incentive and the freedom of manoeuvre to our teams and organizations, and also to us, to come up with the best options for implementation as the situation warrants and conditions evolve. If our plans are too restrictive, this will prevent initiative and we can fall prey to rapid changes as clients, suppliers, competitors, and other stakeholders’ needs, beliefs, and goals evolve in response to our actions.

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to step up and decide what you want to achieve individually and organizationally in 2013 and beyond. Start at strategic level and work through the operational and tactical levels. Look at what you want to achieve in terms of outputs and outcomes, but also in terms of inputs, of what you need to change in your behavior, values, and beliefs in order to maximize the chances of success.

The following questions are meant to guide you in formulating your strategic, operational, and tactical goals for the next year. They are extracted from chapter 4 of Brilliant Manoeuvres, and you can answer them by following the questions on pages 24 to 33 in the Brilliant Manoeuvres Study Guide that you can download from my book page on my website.

•    What is your ultimate vision and objective?
•    What would be the best way to achieve this vision or goal?
•    Do you have the means to achieve this objective in the manner you’ve defined?
•    Do you need to change the way you intend to achieve your objective? If so, would this lead to the attainment of your goal or vision?
•    Do you need to break up your ultimate vision into sub-goals and to sequence these over time?
•    What mission would allow you to realize that vision or end state?
•    What is your broad intent in that regard, such as your positioning and posture (offensive or defensive)?
•    Do you wish your products and services to be highly differentiated, constantly innovating to stay ahead of the pack, or do you prefer instead to be the cost leader?
•    Are you seeking to defend your position, or to go on the attack to overtake your competitors by staking out your position in virgin territory?
•    What is the broad scheme of manoeuvre and concept of operations that will transform your vision into action and results? How does this translate into a functioning business model that can succeed over time and that supports your mission?
•    What resources are required? Who will execute the plan and what roles are they expected to play?
•    What specific tasks and responsibilities are required of the subordinate elements and leaders in your organization?
•    How do these tasks fit together and how are they sequenced in time and space to produce the effects you’re seeking?

I can’t guarantee success if you answer these questions, as there are simply too many factors and imponderables that can impinge on your goals. However, I can guarantee what will happen if you don’t set any objectives and plan for their achievement: stasis or, worst, decline. Nothing stays put in the world and if you’re not moving, someone else is and will overtake you.

Find the time between now and the end of the year to ponder these things and to set your goals for 2013. Create your outline plans that will get you to your objectives. Assign responsibilities to your team members and work with collaborators to determine how to best apportion roles and resources. Better yet, read Brilliant Manoeuvres and follow along with the downloadable Study Guide on my book page so that you can win your business battles in 2013 and beyond.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2012. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.

We hear a lot about accountability, though usually as being accountable to others. However, we often forget the power of what I call ‘self-accountability.’ This is the feeling you get when you look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how you’re doing, what you’ve achieved, and how you’re meeting your personal objectives.

I believe self-accountability is more important than being accountable to others. We are all our most intimate partners and our greatest critics. We know more about ourselves and our actions (or should anyway) than anyone else. We are also able to assess how we’re doing better than anyone else (or should). I’m not talking about negative self-talk and self-criticism. I’m referring to the fact that we should be able to call on internal resources to challenge ourselves, measure our progress, and know what’s right and wrong. When we have a strong sense of self-knowledge and self-accountability, we can call on others to calibrate our goals, metrics, results, and values, rather than creating our own solely on the basis of outside pressure and standards.

Here are some quick tips for creating self-accountability:

  1. Transform your goals into tangible actions and then turn these into habits. For instance, if you want to write a book, you have to determine when you will work on it. Don’t just trust yourself to create under pressure or when the ‘spirit moves you.’ If you want to be productive, you have to sit down and “do the work,” as author Steven Pressfield says.
  2. Habits should be the instantiation of your work goals.
  3. The best way to create habits is to turn them into routines. Continuing with the writing example, if you determine you need to write every morning for 2 hours, i.e. 10 hours a week, then you set the time aside in your agenda AND YOU DO IT! You do this for any ongoing activity. DO NOT WAIT FOR THE ‘RIGHT’ TIME. The right time is NOW!
  4. Create minor penalties and rewards for non performance. For instance, if you miss one day of writing during the week, you have to make it up on Saturday morning. If you miss another day, then you have to make a contribution to a charity, or better, an organization whose goals you don’t support (assuming it’s legal of course). Your reward? Following through every day according to your routine. In other words, don’t ruin the free weekend you’ve earned by adhering to your routine by writing for 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. You met your goal, so now you get to enjoy the reward: a free weekend. After a more important milestone, for instance, finishing a chapter, you can reward yourself with something minor but significant, say a day off of writing (as long as you get right back on schedule afterwards).
  5. I’m using the example of writing merely for illustrative purposes, mainly because writing tends to require a lot of willpower for most people, but these processes are applicable to anything. Here are some other approaches.
  6. If you use an electronic calendar app, schedule time for the productive activities, not just appointments and meetings, and create reminders. Use a calendar that works on your desktop and your mobile devices, such as Apple’s apps and Google/Android apps. They update through the cloud so you don’t have to reenter information on your devices.
  7. It’s better to work on something regularly for shorter periods of time than to binge.
  8. Start early, or at least earlier, so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute.
  9. Leave for a meeting earlier. Arrive earlier. If you get there early, relax, bring some reading material, have a coffee. There’s an incredible amount of freedom that comes from not overscheduling or ‘scheduling for perfection.’
  10. Don’t set too many goals for any particular time period. If you get 3 or 4 significant things done during a day, that’s usually a pretty good day. If you launch a major initiative during a week, manage the progress on three projects, and do all the other minor things you do during a week, that is a pretty good week, by any measure.
  11. Review your accomplishments at the end of the day, week, month, quarter, and year. Do this before setting goals for the next relevant time period.
  12. If you haven’t met a goal, ask yourself why. If it’s something you can control, do something about it. If not, then build more flexibility into your plans.
  13. Create plans to achieve your goals and then turn them into tangible actions by scheduling the time to do them or delegating them.
  14. Give yourself regular breaks for downtime, rest, recreation, and just to reward yourself for progress.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a darn good start. I’d be thrilled to hear from you in the comments if you’d like to share your own tips or techniques for creating ‘self-accountability.’

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.