Posts Tagged ‘objectives’

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.

There was an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about learning from failure. I agree with most of what is said, but the article also includes survey results from the last decade which consistently show that the most important cause of “failure” is unrealistic or inaccurate objectives.

Unfortunately with this kind of result, we can’t ascertain how valid the original objectives were. I’ve often observed this phenomenon with my clients when we start working together. Objectives and goals are often vague, abstract or simply unattainable. I call this the “horizon problem”; regardless of how much progress you make, you can never reach the horizon. It’s always there, mocking you.

I advocate defining and aiming for concrete objectives. For instance, simply saying you want to increase revenues or profits is just a way of starting the goal-setting process. You have to then turn this into something specific. What is the dollar increase in sales you are aiming for? How many clients or products or whatever does that represent? What are the markets or segments you’re targeting? Within what timeframe?

You can always revise goals upward as you close in on them. But at least, by making them concrete you have to specify intermediate steps that are measurable and actionable. This way you avoid the “horizon problem.” You can also compare your progress against where you were when you started. If anything, this provides a more realistic basis of comparison and also helps in raising morale, because the progress and improvements are more evident.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted 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.

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