Management and Consulting Services

Best Practices Category

Why Tolerate Abusive Tactics and Contrarian Behaviors in the Workplace? | 8/10/2015

Boss Yelling
According to referenced sources, Lewis Carroll was: an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer. You likely remember either the book or the movie about Alice in Wonderland, and others from his stable of works. For one, I recall a character who used to mumble something like, “hmmm, curiouser and curiouser.”

There are times when many of us view human behavior in business relationships, organizations, government, how they operate, and wonder “what were they thinking” (to quote a lyric from a C&W song). Multiple examples of bully behavior and the “blame game” can be pointed out these days: politics of personal destruction, scorched-earth strategy, the end justifies the means, do whatever it takes, do as I say–not as I do, we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it, shove it down their throats, accountability doesn’t matter, if you like your plan…, why is reciprocity important (?), who’s going to find out anyway (?), and on and on and on.

With such grossly-ineffective tactics also operative in some businesses, it becomes even more painful when such behavior appears to get rewarded.

Now that can be maddening, whether it’s:

  • A “consulting” firm that never seems to be able to compensate people for relationships they initiate which result in business, or,
  • Bosses who continually reward favorites instead of contributors (or “save” the wrong people during a reduction in force),
  • Public servants who must know what they say is misleading, incorrect, false, not-the-whole-story, yet they dutifully recite whatever they must to push their agenda…and/or the media which rarely if ever calls such statements to task,
  • Institutions whose people put convicted fraud felons on the podium, provide media attention and exposure for them with no regard to what is truthful…or worse yet, university professors who showcase such criminals and their rationalizations in front of students,
  • People who exhibit such toxic behavior that they disrupt business practices, significantly impact productivity, and never seem to be held accountable.

And yet, we know these incidents should be fixed and then never tolerated again. And the people who exhibit such behavior…well…they need to be dealt with also. The larger question becomes, will we make the decisions to then act, rightly?

By the time we have reached management levels, gained experiences, and are capable of applying sound judgment guiding principled action, we truly can “trust our gut.” We must be examples of right behavior. The thousands of rules, laws, regulations, statutes, have not served us—just drove us to this place.

Right principles that initiate leadership actions, driven by principled people…that’s where we need to be.

Said another way, “Integrity has no need of rules.”  Albert Camus 

If I hear from one more “expert”… | 3/16/2015

Expert Advice
We are bombarded by experts, from the weatherman to the executive coach, the boardroom-name-consultant to the office busy-body, the public-relations overseer to the crisis manager. Don’t know about you, but many times the value is merely perceived, not realized. Unfortunately, we all have historical experiences with: the ERP system that was going to transform the business; the ROI never achieved; the project that never ended; the consultants who never left. Their objective was…to perpetuate their own cash flow.

I remember a “big four” accounting firm that came out with full-page advertisements in the WSJ extolling the virtues of that 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley legislation that was (purportedly) going to preserve the economics and integrity of the capital markets. Again, don’t know about you, but I always glanced to the bottom of the ad looking for the small print that said…“and we’re making a “$#}&-pot” full of money promoting it”! The leading-edge companies quickly took their SOX efforts in-house, for they knew the business process experts were their own internal resources, not the self-proclaimed expert outsiders.

These leading-edge companies, and some of the rest of us, finally got fed up.

The time and place for “experts” does exist, but I know I’m not alone in lamenting the dependency curse, the intellectual laziness that can befall key players in the best of organizations, the subsequent excuses, the “blame-game.” For the outside experts (finally) go away, and while you have their study, project documentation, the alleged “knowledge transfer” — YOU subsequently owned the responsibility to answer for the shortcomings, the promises unfulfilled. The accountability for those shortcomings — became yours.

We all know there is a time and place for external assistance: to do things the organization has the identified need for, but neither the time nor the appropriate resources to cover each one-time-problem/expertise gap. So you carefully do the business case, selection, funding, project management, and so on, to optimally get the need solved… “on time and on budget.” And you own it…cuz when the “experts” go away, they own nothing…

The disease is–that while we continue to be bombarded by “the experts,” we do get influenced to feel: the doubt-creep, the what-if-there’s-something-to-it, and we forget the last time we gave in to the promises, the bamboozle, the over-promised results…that never showed up. We hear about government dependency, the nanny-state, the numerous and overlapping programs doled out by the “guvment,” funded by us, the tax-payers. And we simply cannot let that dependency seep into our own lives, our businesses and institutions, to negatively diminish our own ambition, resolve, and production—by eerily-similar, lazy dependence upon “experts.”

Let’s reclaim our strengths, remember how we got here, what it took, the lessons-learned from experience, and “belly-up to the bar” with personal resolve and accountability.

We have our experiences, our knowledge, our networks, our people…and we need all cylinders firing in sequence, all working to achieve—to produce results…better, faster, cheaper, smarter.

We are the experts.

One last thought, from someone else far more insightful (and inspiring) than my own brain’s quote-ability—on the relationship of an idea from an expert vs. that of a leader:

It is, after all, the responsibility of the expert to operate the familiar, and that of the leader to transcend it.” (Henry A. Kissinger)

 

 

 

Right Action | 1/7/2015

Handshake

According to the Press, various pundits, and politicians…“words matter.”

Depending upon who is saying them, however, words can either clearly resonate…or conversely…simply ring hollow. The two things which add weight to someone’s words are: that thing called “experience,” and the other one called, “credibility” (created many times BECAUSE of the experience—or the LACK of it which negatively impacts believability and relevance). These two things must support, or in many ways, validate the words.

One guy who’s made quite a prosperous living from: speech-i-fying, book-writing, blogging, and the correspondingly-proverbial executive coaching that typically accompanies such things, probably nailed the proof-positive-position on words vs. accomplishments. At least it rang true (for me) via the following quote from John C. Maxwell and his countless books, including The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, which gave rise to:

“Actions are the real indicator of character.” The clincher is character, because words really don’t matter; (right) actions do.

From another author, words are empty, but, according to Matthew Kelly, “thoughts create actions, actions create habits, habits create character, and your character is your destiny, in the workplace and in your relationships.” (Perfectly Yourself, copyright 2006 by Beacon Publishing, Ballantine Books, Random House, Inc., New York.)

Time after time after time, when taking over large or even smaller organizations, I became convinced that the people on the floor, the staff people—the process experts–already KNEW: the problems, what the obstacles were, who were the identified poor performers, what system and process issues existed, and they had both solution-ideas, but also carried with that knowledge, expectations of their management. Even more importantly, they ALL desperately wanted progress. They were prideful, and clearly fed up with mediocrity. They wanted to win…and they were highly capable because, after all, they were the process experts.

The effective employees knew progress required action. They were waiting patiently for just a few things:

  • Would management finally figure it out? Would they (we) ask for ideas?
  • Would we do the right next thing—would management finally take the action?

The strategic studies had already happened, then followed by the expected one-way communications filled with all the words…these had come far earlier, far too often, and they had since rang hollow. Because proof-of-the-pudding, so to speak, was: “did actions follow the words?” My job was to make things happen, just the same as within your own management job. If not us, who? If not now, when?

I still recall that front-page quote from Jim Dutt, then CEO of Beatrice Foods (conglomerate in the 70’s and 80’s):

“I’d rather be wrong doing something.”

Do as you say…now there’s a concept.

If Facts Alone Don’t Convince You, Rely On… | 12/12/2013

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Management guidance pieces have long promoted key metrics, scorecards, “measure what must be managed”, and so on.  Even in the internal audit environment, once you get beyond that “tone at the top” fallacy, increasing comprehensive transaction and data coverage is always a very good thing.  Subsequent efforts can then optimize the use of people resources to analyze the exceptions, anomalies, and things that auto-analysis just cannot address.  In management and consulting efforts, the “data tells you where to spend your time,” but, you must prioritize, and then execute.

I recently had the privilege to hear two C-level presentations; one from a key officer of a global soft-drink and branding goliath, and the second via a good friend who brought the CFO of a regional power utility to an organization event.  Beyond the data (and transactions, and background, and control environment, and funding, and dealing with analysts, and so on)…the most important thing each of them saw as primary was communicating.  One of those C-level people further conditional-ized his specific commentary on the topic as you MUST be able to take the complex and communicate so that (all) others could understand—and he consciously looked for talent who could do just that.  (Now that reminds me of the definition of a good writer—wish I could attribute this paraphrased recollection:  it’s someone who can tell you to go to hell, and have you looking forward to the trip.)

Finally, in a recent small group setting, I had the opportunity to hear from the CFO responsible for orchestrating the largest IPO the Southeast has seen this year.  One question posed to him was: how have you had to change your style in the midst of all this change?  He responded with two things: “I had to prioritize…and I had to communicate.”

All these people possess decades of experience (that’s a very good thing), but “at the end of the day” (I hate that phrase), their most important, logical recommendations, and contributions, come from making simplified sense of complexity, and being able to ‘splain it.

Going from the business world — to the scientific method — and even further — to philosophy (and you can), a recent piece from one of my favorites: “Real Clear Science/Real Clear Religion” caught my attention.  The article was written by M. Anthony Mills, and embedded in his comments was a posited solution to what I perceived as an oft-encountered conundrum…what do you do when the facts are insufficient?  Mills attributed his answer to Pierre Duhem and G.K. Chesterton’s recommendation.

In essence, if facts alone don’t convince you, rely on:

good sense. 

 

 

 

 

The Sergeant Schultz Defense (“…I know nothing, nothing…”) | 11/5/2013

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At some point in time, each of us has gained a full ration of “in the chair” experiences, worked for more than a few companies and bosses, seen the style and effectiveness of great mentors and parents and teachers…and leaders.  We’ve built a history of how best to deal with the numerous personality disorders of not-so-effective people, ferreted-out the BS-artists vs. substantive producers.  We become highly skilled at separating the winners…and losers.  We’ve listened carefully to baseless claims, attempted to follow poor reasoning, and evaluated lame or non-factual “excuses.”

And then, rightfully so, we end up withholding all respect whatsoever.

We’ve all seen bad “leaders” and their embedded:

  • Inconsistent or ideologically-based actions,
  • unprincipled arrogance and hubris,
  • self-importance/self-serving behavior,
  • shallowness,
  • even narcissism.

…then we wonder…just how did they get to where they are, and how are they able to stay there?  

Successful business people (and capitalists) admire and espouse accountability, people who take responsibility for their actions or inaction, and they also take credit for favorable accomplishments too.  That famous movie title, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”…well, we respect full disclosure, principled behavior, and that higher standard…ownership for all things caused, across all three categories.  So, when “leaders,” or perpetrators, or incompetent management, or two-faced politicians, or (fill-in-the-blank) do not take responsibility, it becomes inordinately obvious to us.  We see right through them. Sometimes we can do something DIRECTLY about them, sometimes NOT.

We watch these people operate, and finally, in a moment of stress…they get tested under adversarial conditions…are under the spotlight…their actions are scrutinized…questioned…taken to task…challenged…criticized…pressured…from history and from facts.

Then they fold, right in front of our eyes.

And the excuses start: “It is someone else’s fault, they weren’t told, they weren’t aware, they didn’t know, they can’t recall.”  We see that a lot today, from company officers to politicians—from school superintendents to county commissioners, agency heads to presidents.  Label it the “Sergeant Schultz Defense” for it runs rampant because countervailing forces which can keep people and their disorderly conduct in check are being diminished within public life.  At the same time, however, others I personally know (in government, business, and academic life) still hold themselves to a “higher standard.”

Methinks principled people often get outflanked and outranked.  Unfortunately the impacts are borne by citizens and stockholders who are: employed, taxpayers, informed voters, current with their debts, their sequential education completed but they remain engaged in life-long learning, go to church or believe in a higher being, follow their core (and have one), do the right next thing, and on and on and on.

Let’s face it, the Sergeant Schultz Defense didn’t work for Bernie Ebbers…he got 25 years.

Why should it work for other so-called “leaders”?

Competition Is A Very Good Thing (“a rant”) | 10/1/2013

5778519You’ve seen quotes (even) in this blog space on a host of basic lessons-learned. “The data tells you where to spend your time,” or “blocking and tackling,” “focus on the fundamentals,” and “inquisitiveness causes action” as just a few. We all have our own experiences to draw from, but can also cite examples of effective leadership techniques from a cast of characters we have personally seen in action, learned directly from, and heard about from credible sources—especially about how they performed in challenging times. In other words, we’ve seen them TESTED in ADVERSITY.

We also find useful benefits from research, education and bodies of knowledge, wherever we have reached-to and whatever sources we rely upon. On “the far (other) side” we see management fads with books, testing, advertising, seminars, so-called self-improvement “coaches”, and associated research annotated and quoted religiously (“strength-based leadership” and many, many others). As senior people, however, we’ve likely ferreted out the best of the theories, and installed what works for us, and more importantly, what does not.

“Bottom-line” or “at the end of the day,” (or any of the other trite, over-worked, “phrase-o-logically-tired and academically-inspired but most-of-the-time-untested, never-keeps-me-awake-at-night faddisms”), we end up relying upon those techniques which simply…WORK.

We all must develop defense mechanisms against:

  • Myopic behavior and herd mentality,
  • Group-think and not-invented-here syndrome,
  • Yes-men and women,
  • (Always) managing up people,
  • Narcissism and Midas-touch belief-systems,
  • And, multiple others you can likely name beyond this short list.

The greatest and most effective force overcoming all of these things, however—which is embedded in capitalism and industry (but appears rarely in government, many universities, and “elitist” empire-building entities)—is the most powerful countervailing force on earth, the one which unfailingly perpetuates “creative destruction”:

…and that force is…competition.

Ultimately, competition causes best practices, it is one of the purest forms of “survival-of-the-fittest” corporate Darwinism. It forces out weak players, and ultimately rewards productivity, new ideas, technology, top talent…and there are multiple studies indicating that competition, coupled with ethical behavior and sound economic policy…is unbeatable; the “gold standard.”

Competition is a very good thing…so why not create it, encourage it, guide it?

For most of us, “at the end of the day,” we know it’s unbeatable…so join forces and embrace it.

Management “Fads,” Jingles, and “How-To” Books and Messages | 8/29/2013

We’ve all gotten caught up with the latest management “how-to” tomes and fad-books, all of them ready to arm us with the up-to-now-unheralded-secrets-for-success-in-the-business-world-and-life-in-general.  But as we have likely learned from our own lessons, the experience in all of us says, “well, that might certainly be worth a look, but I’ll trust my instincts primarily.”

Do Any of the Latest Hot-Button Crazes Have Some Merit?

However, why not take a substantive look and see if any of the latest hot-button crazes have some merit which could supplement our experiences and increase ideas for situational, real-life testing?  If we’re on a path of life-long learning (and we’d better be), some add-on suggestions to expand our horizons may represent tips and food-for-thought to bolster our effectiveness.

Although it’s been a while since the last time I sat in an MBA class (as a student that is), some of the following made sense to me, and may also have been on your radar-screen too—from: Steve Jobs; Jim Collins; and the latest from Raynor and Ahmed (The Three Rules, et.al.).

All of these are worthy of some pondering, acting-on.

iStock_000016854809XSmallSteve Jobs’ Rules to Manage/Live/Exist By

Recurring observations from Apple’s Steve Jobs include the following dirty-dozen “rules” to manage/live/exist by, as paraphrased here — copied from the blogosphere (NOT my “stuff”):

  1. Do what you love to do.
  2. Focus on the outcome.   People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome.
  3. Be different.
  4. Do your best…at every job. Hire good people with passion for excellence.
  5. Make a SWOT analysis.   As soon as you join/start a company, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company.
  6. Be entrepreneurial
  7. Start small, think big.  (and) don’t worry about too many things at once..
  8. Strive to become a market leader. (This one reminds me of GE and Jack Welch…we plan to be #1 or #2 in the markets we operate within, if we can’t get there, we’ll exit.
  9. Ask for feedback.   Ask for feedback from people with diverse backgrounds. If you’re at the top of the chain, sometimes people won’t give you honest feedback because they’re afraid. Listen to your customers first.
  10. Innovate.  Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower.
  11. Learn from failures.
  12. Learn continually.   There’s always “one more thing” to learn…from customers, competitors and partners.

Good to Great by Jim CollinsFrom Jim Collins, Good to Great, et. al.:

This is likely a “read” you ought to do, or get the “Cliff’s Notes” or one of those “Good to Great” for Dummies versions…Here’s just a few highlights, paraphrased from one of the Collins’ websites:

  • To decide where to drive the bus before you have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, is absolutely the wrong approach.  Put the right people on the bus, in the right seats.
  • Definition of “hedgehogs”:  Like great thinkers, those who take complexities and boil them down into simple, yet profound, ideas (Adam Smith and the invisible hand, Darwin and evolution)…leaders of good-to-great companies develop a Hedgehog Concept that is simple but that reflects penetrating insight and deep understanding.
  • What does it take to come up with a Hedgehog Concept for your company? Start by confronting the brutal facts. One good-to-great CEO began by asking, “Why have we sucked for 100 years?” (That’s brutal—). 
  • Oh, and go do …the “stop doing” list too…another Jim Collins concept.

The Three RulesFinally, from The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think by Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed; Portfolio Penguin; 376 pages

(…hmmm, I thought “people” think, not companies…but I digress).  Both of these people worked for Deloitte, and the text results from their experiences, “…and studying the largest bodies of data over several decades.” (as quoted in The Economist, July 13th, 2013).

The “rules” are:

  1. “better before cheaper”
  2. “revenue before cost”
  3. There are no other rules.

Finally, you’ve seen this one utilized across the board, but here’s a version from the Atlanta-based Koblentz firm

“We believe that the “secret sauce,” and the best way to evaluating fitness for value creation, consists of relevant experience along with an examination of the candidate’s passion for success, and perseverance honed through adversity.

Every successful leader faced difficulties, false starts, and failure during their lives. To not lose their passion, addressing challenges head on, and to hone judgment while pressing forward are the hallmarks of truly successful leaders. They believe in themselves and their work even when the odds are against them, and when rationality suggests a different path.

Simply, leadership is shaped by adversity.”

Koblentz reminds me of that quote attributed to Patton…something like:

“It’s not how high you soar when things are going great, it’s how high you bounce after you’ve hit bottom.”

Teachable Moments | 8/1/2013

1572027As a boss, advisor, consultant, problem-solver, listener, even numerous examples as a parent–all of these roles generate circumstances which offer opportunities to, WITHIN CONTEXT, design and deliver lessons-learned guidance…from experience.  The best time to meet with someone face-to-face is when you are armed with the benefits of that experience, but also when you own the facts, impacts, and options surrounding a key decision-point or challenge. That old adage of “timing is everything” still applies to: the punch line of a joke, emphasizing the critical messages within a speech or presentation, building the foundation for a strategic position, negotiating a critical bargaining point, or communicating a key lesson at just the right juncture.  Prior to the discussion, or the event itself, is a whole lot of preparation.  One lesson that’s been critical to success for me (and learned the hard way, by the way, in addition to others passed to me from mentors and their experiences) comes from two key elements:

  • The data tells you where to spend your time…presuming…
  • You can trust the data and distill it into “actionable management information.”

(Said another way, you or people you trust have validated the relevant portions of the data from which you will make your decision, stake your position, or document your concurrence.)

Key staff people have access to a virtual multitude of information—from internal systems and external data—but the most reliable support people operate this way (what was historically described as “completed staff work” by management guru Peter Drucker — or maybe it was conglomerate-operator Harold Geneen of ITT), where: those talented staff people identified, researched, validated the data, offered relevant conclusions from those activities, and also offered options.  Quite frankly, those people do not realize how valuable they are/were…and they are depended upon…time-after-time-after-time.

So, ultimately, the data does tell you where to spend your time.

One more thing: because of lessons-learned (and pain endured), I’ve been purposeful in trying to hire people around me, who were different than me.  Having different backgrounds and personalities, varied experiences, and so on—many times prevented “group think,” and served as a countervailing force in many ways.  I might have ventured down a perilous path, but I didn’t necessarily end up staying there!  When I did NOT have people different than me, around me, it was trouble.

…Perhaps a teaching moment or two…or just suggestions for your consideration.

 

 

Skepticism is a Very Good Thing | 6/17/2013

4652900One need not look too far to recall historical studies warning us of an increasing likelihood of fraud events in government.  Common-sense rationale stipulates that in competitive pursuits, companies doing fraud ultimately get caught: they experience diminished economic results, lose reputation, grow weak, and then they go out of business.

With public institutions, if countervailing forces do not exist, fraud and waste continue unabated for extended periods of time.  If scandals or bad behavior occur, how can we be surprised?  And, borrowing one impactful phrase from the confines of a June 6th Wall Street Journal commentary by Steven Law:

“There’s never just one cockroach.”  

Diligence in Fraud Prevention

So, whether an organization houses a few “bad apples” or is in itself a “bad barrel,” we must all be diligent, at all levels of an organization—our company, governmental institution, not-for-profit entity.

Several combinations of characteristics: inertia and complacency; an inability to face-down issues or challenges early in their life-cycle therefore letting avoidable problems fester far beyond any tolerable term; herd mentality and group-think; all of these ultimately cause or promote the wrong behavior from employees…by omission.

Perhaps even more importantly, if we as management do not communicate and exemplify common sensible, key behavioral and ethical principles, then we are perceived as tolerating any resulting behavior.

Let me say that again:  Not communicating or not acting rightly sends the clear and quickly-perceived message…that we tolerate the opposite: wrong choices and bad behavior.

Rule #1 through #3: Decide what’s important; Say it; Do it.  Rule #4: Repeat  rules 1 through 3.

Most importantly, at the base of right behavior throughout an organization must be two things forming its foundation…a sense of right and wrong, and, healthy skepticism…at all levels.

As examples:

  • In M&A efforts, we utilize due diligence on purpose; to confirm what is and is not in place…what the numbers are…what the operations actually produce…what the capabilities and risks and results are or could be.
  • In managing operations, we have business processes built over time, done with consistency, by people and through systems.  Within those business processes, we have our in-house experts executing transactions and activities…and they know better than anyone when something goes awry, or does not happen according to those processes and intentions.

Our job as managers, or subject matter experts, or conscientious employees, or valued contractors…is (FIRST) to be diligent, observant, add value.  If things get out of kilter, or cause our gut to get queasy, we must then act…and we must have trusted people to go to if we cannot fix it ourselves.

Create a Culture of Principle

Skepticism naturally results from: inquisitive people acting knowledgeably, with a principled sense of right and wrong.  But, if the culture or management approach is non-committal, or absent, or even worse…toxic…then principle gets shoved aside, or dies, or departs…and the wrong things happen.

So, the choices, messages, and therefore the tone from management all create the “culture.”  If management takes no position, communicates nothing substantively, then the wrong choices and behavior are neither prevented nor avoided.  “Herd-driven” or “group-think” approaches simply prolong the stupidity.

If action is taken by principled, knowledgeable and experienced people, and consistently communicated and reinforced…successful management teams emerge, along with sustained company success.  Let’s face it, everyone jumps the bandwagon of a winner…but winners are established and sustained by principled, communicated messaging…resulting in right action, regularly verified.

Focus on the Fundamentals | 4/23/2013

1790083Long ago a good friend, businessman, associate, highly-ethical person in my network clued me into the obvious: most times the secret to performance and success “is just blocking and tackling.”  Now in these days of: consultant-speak, nuanced-solutions, follow-the-herd mentality or at least the latest management theme-song, that revelation typically falls on deaf ears.  Such ho-hum advice is just NOT very exciting.  As a matter of fact, it is just downright boring, but quickly becomes lesson-learned #1 when you become a victim by falling into the realm of what was first ignored.

Dangerous territory to venture into, apparently…

Yet, day after day after day after day, we are reminded by real-life experts, literally across the board, who very simply emphasize facts gained from experience…you must focus on the fundamentals.  Coaches, mentors, trainers, chronically-successful business people, and now even administrators are confirming that uninspiring statement.

To wit: Joel Klein (former chancellor of the New York City public schools, and now EVP of News Corp.—who owns the Wall Street Journal) in an op-ed from April 19, 2013 entitled “What Education Reform Looks Like,” describes the approach taken by Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York:

“His 14-year tenure demonstrates what is possible when schools set a high bar for their students, faculty and leadership, measure progress toward those goals, and hold themselves accountable for meeting them.”

Or another education example that’s in the press a lot lately: school consultants continue to bemoan the efforts that too much time is spent in the classroom “teaching to the test.”  What apparently does not occur to many (most?) is that “the test” is a pretty fundamental threshold of knowledge required to just exist in the world, and many times even those tests get periodically “dumbed-down” to achieve a higher pass-rate, at the cost of educational quality.  Further, my network indicates that state tests given in Texas are done in a couple of hours in the high-achievement schools, yet students in achievement-gap schools are allowed to take all school-day to complete them…and it is a fundamental skills/knowledge test…but still, we shouldn’t be teaching to the test???

Another, more personal example: in one of my own fraud-uncovering experiences, counsel gave me their instructions on how best to deal with testifying in front of a hostile lawyer.  You must own the facts, so the first directive was always, “just tell the truth.”  (I then recalled what my own daughters used to say when I stated the obvious to them: “Well duh, Dad!”)

Yet too many times we get distracted by other non-core, non-mission-critical things, and we get sloppy on the fundamentals.  Then we get bitten, sometimes badly.  So make sure that the requirements are covered, and build on top of them…don’t start another foundation that then crumbles when times get tough.

First things first, and then over and over again!