Don’t worry, this Lesson is not about old-fashioned fishbone diagrams but we do need to cover the basic groundwork first. Any manager who wants to regard themselves as professional will have been trained in the discipline of problem solving, which can be summarised in 5 discrete steps:
- Identify the problem (e.g. customer complaints)
- Measure the problem (how many?)
- Find the cause of the problem (e.g. defective product)
- Provide a solution to remove the causes (improve design and quality assurance)
- Check that the solution worked (re-measure 2.)
Cause and effect charts are a well-known, widely-used and essentially common sense technique. For example, if you have water coming through your ceiling (effect) you naturally look for the source of the leak (cause). The first thing you must write on the chart is the ‘effect’ or fish’s ‘head’ (dripping water). Then all the ‘bones’ are added, representing the contributory causes (e.g. a hole in the pipe, the stopcock is still open, poor insulation etc.). Trying to solve problems any other way would be totally illogical.
Yet when it comes to human capital management this simple logic often flies straight out of the window. So a clear-headed adherence to the stipulations of cause/effect analysis will distinguish the evidence-based HR manager from their distant cousins, twice removed, non-evidence-based HR departments.
EB-HR Managers always use cause and effect analysis, especially for the most complex, strategic, human capital issues.
Many HR people break this sacrosanct cause/effect rule on a regular basis; often with the complicity of, or even under duress from, senior line managers. The most obvious examples usually emanate, ironically, from the learning and development department. They produce an annual menu of pre-determined training courses (management development, leadership, customer service) without any specific problem identification, definition, measurement or causal analysis.
When senior managers cannot be bothered to work out complex organisational issues they seek instant, quick-fix solutions and this is where the most serious breaches of the cause/effect rule tend to occur. This is exactly why the need for EB-HR arose in the first place – to fill the void between operational management limitations and effective, strategic execution. This is the space that the critical, evidence-based, human capital manager needs to inhabit.
Let us consider issues as nebulous and indistinct as ‘inter-departmental collaboration’ or ‘functional cooperation’. These may feel like palpable and significant problems but they are, at best, expressions only of symptoms, not effects. Poor cooperation might result in longer, product development times but the only effects we are interested in are those that have hard cost and revenue implications. Rushing off and dealing with symptoms, without a logical cause/effect analysis, is doomed to fail. So to minimise this tendency among their management colleagues the EB manager will just confidently apply their trusted discipline of cause/effect analysis by: -
- Immediately recognising that the topic of discussion has yet to be properly defined in OCRQ value terms and
- Taking out a pen and paper and asking the meeting to approach the issue using a fishbone diagram
There will be some resistance to this idea because it is likely to lay the responsibility for solving the problems at the very doors of those causing them (which is precisely what it is designed to do). Nevertheless, the EB Manager should stick to their guns by asking any objectors to offer an alternative if they have one (knowing that there isn’t one). From here on the rest is relatively straightforward.
- State that the effect has to be the first thing written on the paper (there can be no argument with that).
- When someone says ‘poor cooperation’ you ask them to spell out what that might mean to the business, hypothetically, in terms of OCRQ
- When they try to put ‘C’ and ‘R’ as a joint effect remind them that a fishbone diagram can only deal with one effect at a time – so which is it?
- When they eventually agree to insert the word ‘cost’ you ask them for an actual number (always) – is it $100 or $1,000,000?
- Then you want an estimate of how long it will take to have the desired effect.
- Only now can you frame the question correctly by asking “what is causing our costs of product development to be $1,000,000 higher than we need them to be?”
- You can now draw some large fish bones with the generic headings – structure, system, process, culture, business plan and roles and you will find most causes fall under one or more of these. So, for example, if someone says ‘bad design’ that would go under ‘the design process’ or ‘design system’ causal heading.
- The EB-HR Manager now interjects that all causes can be linked back to people causes eventually (e.g. bad designers, badly recruited designers, insufficient training, poor process designer, poor system designer, paying peanuts for designers)
- Now the conversation gets really interesting because it starts to highlight all of the underlying, organisational weaknesses and funnily enough they are all human causes.
The guiding principle here is simple – there is a solution for every organisational problem and you need to find the best solution as quickly as possible. The best way, in fact the only way, is the intelligent application of cause and effect analysis to ascertain who is at the root of the problem.
For personal development linked to this topic visit the Consummate Professional Series