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Plan - Perform - Score


Plan Perform Score March 2009


March 2009

Dear Greg:

Welcome to Plan-Perform-Score! These Insight Bites focus on ideas, thoughts, and tools to alter perspective and improve performance.

Life & Nature Tend to Keep Us Humble ( I apologize in advance if this issue appears a bit preachy.)

We can all agree that these are not dull times in which we live. The word "dynamic" seems too modest an adjective to capture what we are experiencing.

I can't speak for you but one of my growing apprehensions is a chilling realization that "NO ONE" really knows what is going on or what we should do to fix things. And that observation does not instill confidence that we will soon work our way out of the current economic crisis.

But all of life is a learning experience and we can find plenty of lessons to ponder. Here are four that come to mind for us as managers of our organizations and for our civic and institutional leaders in their fiduciary capacity.

  • We are not as smart as we think we are. I've heard countless times over the last 30+ years how our understanding and design of the national and global financial economy could never allow an economic crisis like the current one to exist let alone persist. We were assured that the combination our knowledge, superior communications and powerful information systems would prevent that possibility. But every once in awhile, nature reminds us of the limits of our knowledge and the pitfalls of "smugness." The sinking of the "Titanic" was the profound example from last century. I believe we are currently undergoing a similar learning experience.
  • Complexity has its limitations. Computers, systems and information networks are remarkable achievements but they are not a panacea in and of themselves. The Human Element does come into play. If the systems in place are too complex for people to understand, then that might not be a virtue. Complex financial derivatives were at the heart of the sub-prime fiasco and the embarrassing fact is that the best and the brightest did not truly understand them. So what chance did the rest of us mere mortals have? Warren Buffet has it right when he says he never invests in something he does not understand. That sounds pretty simple and very profound in retrospect. I'm a big believer in "the simpler the better" as a governing philosophy for management of enterprise.
  • Humility is a great blessing. Learning should come with a healthy respect. I embrace the old adage "that the more I know the more I realize how little I know." Bertrand Russell captures another subtle observation: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are filled with doubt." Appreciate what your learn but never think you know it all. Heed the words of Clint Eastwoods' Dirty Harry character, "A man has got to know his limitations."
  • Painful lessons can foster growth and development. Learning is enhanced when we fail if we heed the lesson and grow from the experience. But real growth is more than just political grandstanding and fancy rhetoric. Real change does not come easily. But the breakthrough to a higher level can be profound.

So watch, listen and learn from the events of the day. It's an exhilarating time to be alive. Hang in there, learn from life's lessons and please share your insights.

Quote & Note

To err is human, but it is against company policy. " - Anonymous

We all make mistakes. It's part of being human. It's what we do with the experience that is the key.

One of my biggest pet peeves is someone who has made a mistake and is either unwilling to acknowledge it or doesn't seem to care. Caring is a fundamental attribute for personal and organizational growth. And feeling bad about making a mistake is not all bad either. The discomfort from error can be a powerful motivator to improve performance. There is a fine line between unhealthy excess dwelling on a mistake on the one hand and not taking adequate responsibility for one's responsibilities on the other.

A person who cares tends to learn from failure while one who "does not" generally "will not."

Management Law

The Functionary's Falsity:

People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing.

The SEC, congress and other government watchdog organizations are a prime example. Barney Madoff, AIG, Fannie, Freddie and the entire sub-prime debacle are a painful reminder that systems do not always perform as intended. As a nation, we seem to delight in passing more and more laws that on the surface do more to punish those that were doing things right in the first place while we seldom seem to sort out the "bad actors" before they do their massive damage.

The lesson for our organizations is not to assume things are always functioning as designed. Testing the system is a vital follow up. Robust internal audit is a healthy thing. As Ronald Regan used to say about the Russians and arms deployment, "Trust but Verify."

Check this out: NEWSEUM

Here's a fast, easy and entertaining way to keep up with the headlines in newspapers all over the world. A simple mouse-over will supply a visual front page for the related newspaper. Enjoy and learn. Meanwhile I'll keep searching for the cartoon equivalent.

We welcome your feedback on this and all issues of Plan-Perform-Score! Please e-mail your comments to:
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March 2009

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