|You don’t know what you don’t know
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
– This is known as the “There are known knowns” quote from the United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in February 2002.
At first this quote was met with much mirth, but on later reflection the quote, while perhaps confusing at first is very profound. In sport and business all performance teams know there are things they can improve on, but many also recognize there are things they don’t know they have to improve on. Consulting with teams and organizations, I often get asked about how best to approach this. How do you get better when you don’t know where or how to?
Generally, there are three options I’ve used each specific to the level and requirements of the team and situation Auditing, Benchmarking and Red-Teaming.
Auditing is the most common of the three, where one or a number of experienced people from outside the organization spend time assessing the performance of the group. This can take anywhere from weeks to months, either continuously or intermittently.
The downsides of auditing is that it can be confrontational in nature, but it doesn’t have to be. The reporting and possible improvements can be very valuable for the team. Of course everything is dependent on those brought in and the quality of the auditing process. The most successful
Benchmarking is usually done my people from outside the organization also, but it can be done with sub-departments by performance directors. Most often the approach is done by presenting the best-in-class examples of performance standards and practices to the staff and as a group they compare and contrast.
This is a very useful and slightly more detailed process, but it provides the staff with a great insight into identifying possible short-comings and gaps in knowledge and operational procedures. The value here is really in the process itself. The skill of the moderator can make or break a benchmarking process.
Red Teaming is done internally. In this case the perspective is taken by certain members of the performance team that they are looking for weaknesses. They adopt a very constructively critical view of the performance and operations of the group, looking for weaknesses and ways to improve.
Again moderating is critical, but as a process it’s one of the best ways to continuously improve the organization or department. Red-Teaming is perfect for all aspects of an organization, but very effective for isolated departments like senior leadership, marketing, sports science, or analysis.
Recruiting & Hiring
The process can very helpful in recruiting and headhunting. Some organizations beset with politics, one-upmanship, and personal agendas generate cultures where individuals crave status, titles to fulfill selfish ambitions – but done correctly these processes put the focus on tasks and responsibilities, not on roles and titles.
Recruiting staff on their ability to do tasks responsibly, not on their job titles or to fill roles. Auditing, Benchmarking and Red Teaming can help create teams of generalists who have a broad range of responsibilities and who are committed to success. This way, it doesn’t matter what someone’s title or role is, and people won’t pursue status. Instead, they will work together across the numerous areas needed to coach the team, help it perform well, keep players healthy, and run the business side of the operation.
The best advice I can give teams looking to improve is not to ask what you want to improve – because often, as the Rumsfeld quote outlines we don’t know, rather ask what is it we don’t know we don’t know?
- Choose the expertise and experience of the consultants carefully
- Ensure you have actionables from the reporting process, not simply observations
- Have at least one follow-up visit scheduled before you begin the process as part of it
- Be sure to have the focus on the systems, not people.
- And remember the goal is to improve, not find fault with individuals, so focus on tasks, not roles.
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