In his book Managing (Grafton Books, 1985), Harold S Geneen addresses the need to identify and analyse ‘unshakeable facts’. Geneen’s words in the following extract (p78) are critically important to the making of decisions:
The highest art of professional management requires the literal ability to ‘smell’ a ‘real fact’ from all others – and moreover to have the temerity, intellectual curiosity, guts and/or plain impoliteness, if necessary, to be sure that what you do have is indeed what we will call an ‘unshakeable’ fact.
As well as the ‘unshakeable fact’, there are other categories of ‘fact’
- apparent facts
- assumed facts
- reported facts
- hoped-for facts
- accepted facts
Geneen goes on: Check IS IT A FACT? But more important, IS IT AN UNSHAKEABLE FACT? No matter what you think, try ‘shaking it’ to be sure!
To fully appreciate Geneen’s wisdom, let’s define ‘fact’. The Collins Concise Dictionary Plus states that a fact is:
- an event or thing known to have happened or existed
- a truth verifiable from experience or observation
- a piece of information
- an actual event, happening etc as distinguished from its legal consequences
and perhaps most interestingly
5. a ‘fact of life’ is defined as an inescapable truth, especially an unpleasant one
And now we’ll define ‘shake’:
- to move or cause to move up and down or back and forth with short quick movements
and ‘shake down’ is even more helpful:
- to fall, or settle or cause to fall or settle by shaking.
Your first task when considering whether to believe – or act upon – some information you receive, is to ‘shake’ and ‘shake down’ the facts identified in the information. Deal with the unshakeable facts – and when you know and understand the facts, then – and only then – consider how you feel about the facts.
You’ll find more information in Jean’s 2008 book: One Man show – the smallest of small business
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There are two critical functions in any organisation or company where viability and credibility are dependent upon unshakeable facts:
- decision-making, and
- risk management
Let’s begin with decision-making before moving onto risk management
Test No. 1: Have you developed a consistent and reliable process and procedure for making complex or contentious decisions?
What is a decision?
- the selection, or process of selection, of a course of action from a range of possible alternatives
- a judgment, conclusion or resolution reached or given
Whether you are making these decisions alone or with others, a consistent and reliable process and procedure will stand you in good stead in all aspects of your business or service activities, and be particularly useful in protecting your viability and credibility.
What does a decision look like?
- decisions are a common factor in organisations of any type or size, and in people’s lives – regardless of position or possessions
- decisions come in 7 distinct categories (or flavours):
a) routine – these should be almost automatic, based on precedent
b) non-routine – these need the unshakeable fact analysis to bring them closer to ‘routine’
c) contentious – these need the unshakeable fact analysis – as well as being treated as potential risks
d) non-contentious – the unshakeable fact analysis will be useful here, to avoid moving into the ‘contentious’ category
e) urgent – a danger zone, due to the urgency factor pushing the unshakeable fact analysis aside
f) important – if it’s important, it deserves the unshakeable fact analysis
g) unnecessary – a waste of time!
The process of decision-making is the manner in which the procedure is followed to ensure a consistent quality of decisions.
A decision-making procedure is a series of sequential steps which ensure a consistent approach to decision-making, including:
- identification and diagnosis of a situation, difficulty or opportunity
- reflective development of a plan to relieve or remove the difficulty, or to capitalise on the opportunity
- implementation of the plan’s success or otherwise.
Decision-making is one of the most important and consistent functions in any type or size of organisation or company. The procedure for making a decision clearly falls into these three distinct activities, which can be broken down further into a 7-stage decision-making model.
The 7-stage decision-making model – it is essential to gather – and test – unshakeable facts at each of these seven stages
Stage 1 Analyse the situation, difficulty or opportunity
Stage 2 Define and agree upon the situation, difficulty or opportunity
Stage 3 Examine alternatives for action, and agree on a set of criteria for decision-making
Stage 4 Explore implications of each alternative
Stage 5 Select the alternative to be acted upon
Stage 6 Implement the selected action
Stage 7 Review and evaluate the process and the decision
Critical Success Factors – a critical success factor is a factor which, if not functioning or operating to the desired level of performance, effectiveness and quality, may place the organisation at risk.
Critical Success Factors in decision-making:
- a clearly stated style and process of decision-making
- strategies and procedures in place to ensure consistency in decision-making
- access to the decision-making process for all who have either an interest in, or could be affected by, the process or the outcome of a decision
- a record of all major decisions
- decision-making process and procedures that reflect the structure (ie delegation of authority and lines of accountability) and philosophy of the organisation or company
Test No. 2: Have you considered – and monitored – the close relationship between decision-making and risk?
Factors that can contribute to risk include:
- unwise, unexplained, unnecessary or unplanned change
- disagreement, misinterpretation or misbehaviour among or between stakeholders
- failure or delay in communication or information dissemination
- inadequate, inappropriate, incorrect or vague information or instruction
- non-availability of relevant information, plant, equipment, materials, facilities, tools
- failure to protect the needs and interests of the organisation and the separate and particular requirements or expectations of each stakeholder
- failure to comply with legal, statutory or contractual requirements, duties or obligations
- unacceptable behaviour on the part of decision-makers – including conflict of interest, lack of confidentiality or unwise use of information
- inadequate or inappropriate processes and procedures for:
- needs analysis
- task and territory management
- service/product/program/component design, costing, budgeting, scheduling, implementation, management and evaluation
- lack of appreciation or understanding of immediate, short-term and long-term constraints relating to such factors as finance, time, space, distance, technology and available resources
- inexperience, undue haste, emotional stress, internal or external pressures, inadequate resources, unwise decisions, insufficient care, bad timing or bad luck.
If you take time to examine any of the 11 factors that can contribute to risk, you’ll soon see that decision-making is a core component in each factor: and wherever there is decision-making, there is the need for applying the unshakeable fact test.
- Reacting (which is the opposite to arriving at a considered response) to an idea, challenge or opportunity has the potential to disrupt your organisation’s or company’s progress, or cause unnecessary concern. By all means, listen to your intuition, but also find and examine the unshakeable facts and take time to prepare a considered response
- Transplanting or copying an idea from elsewhere into your own internal methods or systems depends entirely on (a) the cost, and (b) any potential value, use and usefulness of the idea. Isolate the idea, examine it objectively – which means applying the unshakeable fact test – and if you are still interested. Trial it to see if it proves to be a practical benefit and value – rather than an outright cost.
- Forced or imposed change can be greeted and treated with suspicion or a lack of enthusiasm, for example a legislative requirement that you meet and comply with different quality standards or reporting requirements. Put your emotions to one side while you discuss the change with people who know and understand how it will actually affect what you do and the way you do things. Then, when you have the unshakeable facts, your emotional response will be much more constructive.
- Repeated change can be interpreted as moving too far, too fast, too soon and too often by people whose support and acceptance are essential to any change. They may fall away, lose interest or withdraw their support. If this should happen, the task of regaining that ground will be difficult and daunting, to say the least. Use the unshakeable fact test to make sure that, when you are in the early stages of planning change, you bring these people along with you.
Test No. 3: Have you tried the RMC Reality Checklist to monitor financial viability?
The starting point with the Jean’s (RMCs) Reality Checklist© is your (a) audited (or official) financial statements and (b) operational performance for the past 3 financial years. These official documents should provide a factual record of your organisation’s or company’s financial and operational performance over that period, and therefore a factual base for analysis.
Your first task is to ‘shake’ and ‘shake out’ the ‘facts’ identified in these official documents – and acknowledge the unshakeable facts relating to financial and operational performance.
This Checklist has the potential to provide an objective understanding of their organisation’s performance, as a benchmark or base-line for forward planning and comparison.