New Year’s Evaluation: 10 Points to a Better Business Brand

better business brandYour brand is the image of your business that facilitates a connection with your customers and prospects. More importantly, it is branding that keeps you in their minds, so it is your business they think of when a need arises. Think of it as an umbrella idea that carries the look and feel of your business through all your marketing and sales efforts. It makes sense then, that a better business brand means a better business.

Unfortunately, many business owners consider their branding strategy only when they first start in business and sometimes when they make a major change in their business. However, the thoroughness of that consideration is often shallow and therefore, inconsistent in practice.

Here are 10 key points for having a brand that makes it hard for the right prospect to resist you. Consider these points to help you evaluate how well your brand is presenting your business. As you review each point, take notes that explain HOW you know this to be true or untrue for you. It helps to engage this evaluation as a conversation with key stakeholders in your business to ensure multiple points of view and multiple perspectives on the evidence of each point in your business. If you have a business, leadership, or transitions coach – DO include that person in your process. Your coach can create powerful questions that will help dig deeper into what you know about and want for your business.

10 Powerful Steps to a Better Business Brand

How true are these statements for you?

  1. I have a business vision and mission. My brand is based on this and is consistent and comprehensive.
  2. I have identified colors for my brand and I know how those colors support my business mission. I use these colors consistently wherever my business engages customers and prospects.
  3. My business name relates to my branding and is easy to remember and spell. I own a domain name related to my branding.
  4. I know my target audience and how my brand appeals to them. I can articulate not only demographic information but also character traits that make them ideal clients for me and my brand.
  5. I know the businesses whose products and/or services may look similar to mine – and I know how my brand and my offerings are different. I know what makes me unique and why my clients purchase from me. I can articulate this knowledge from my customer’s perspective.
  6. I have a logo that is consistent with my brand, includes my colors, and is simple and clear. I use it everywhere my brand is represented.
  7. I have a tagline for my brand that highlights how my business is distinct, adds clarity and meaning to what my business offers, and is memorable both in print as part of my conversations in networking opportunities.
  8. My brand has a personality that I have described with a list of characteristics. This personality is aligned with my own personality so that it builds connection with my audience. I feel very comfortable with my brand’s personality and have no trouble representing it with other people.
  9. Every medium that I use for marketing (social media channels, website, blog, email, printed materials, signage, tradeshow displays, etc.) contains elements of my brand, which are all are consistent with its overall message and personality.
  10. My brand is recognized on its own, so my business is known at a glance by the people who need what I offer.

If you find some opportunities for exploration or improvement in a few areas, spend some time thinking about those working with your stakeholders on building a better business brand for the new year. Make a resolution to revisit your brand quarterly as part of your overall strategic business planning.

Reach out for help from a coach. Did you know that every person who is at the top of their game, in any industry, is working or has worked with a coach? You already have what it takes to succeed, and your coach can help you get where you are going even faster than you can on your own.

Knowing, and using, your brand informs everything you create in your business. With solid, consistent branding, you’re likely to find it easier to build trust and attract the right clients to your business. One more tip – If it is worth doing, it’s worth having a place on your calendar, so don’t just put this evaluation on your to-do list, give it time in your schedule!


Doreen Petty’s content derived from and used under license, © Claire Communications

Make Your Brand Magnetic by Making It Personal

magnetic brand building


What makes a brand magnetic? Think about the brands you’re familiar with and attracted to. Consider how they make you feel and what you think when you see them. How do they influence your choosing and buying behaviors? Chances are they portray a certain image that engages something important for you – a sense of connectedness or pride.

As a small business owner or solo-professional, you can take this theory and run with it to develop your own brand. An ideal branding strategy results in a connection to customers and clients who you are most anxious to serve and who are magnetically attracted to what you have to offer

Start here…

What’s your personality?

Most small business owners need look no further than their own personality in beginning the building of an effective brand. Are you a straight shooter? Then brand your business that way. If you’re fun loving, then develop a brand around that. Or, if you’re a serious sort, start there.

Branding your business around your personality makes it much easier to send a consistent and solid brand message. And you’ll be working with people you can easily communicate with and relate to. Building your brand around how you naturally show up in the world is much easier than trying to build a brand that isn’t you – and your customers will feel and value that connection.

Build your brand around your customers’ needs and wants.

Speaking of customers, the foundation of your brand is built around you – but your brand strategy should always focus on the needs and wants of your customers. Your customers are not buying your products and services, they are buying a solution to a problem or need. As I read recently, no one buys the shovel; they buy the hole.

When you can market your brand through the results your customers realize – in effect, closing the gap between what they want and what they have – you can be more confident that you will not be selling, your customers will be buying.

Make a clear connection between your brand and your ideal customers. Consider the feeling and brand image your customers need in order to experience a sense of trust and connection – with you and your business.

Visualization of a Brand.

Embrace colors and images that support your personality and the brand voice that will attract the attention of your customers throughout your marketing content. It is critical to be consistent when presenting them. Neuroscience tells us that every time we see an image, our brains search memory banks for previous visions and perceptions related to that image – previous feelings, interactions, experiences, reactions, thoughts, etc. Every interaction with your brand is a marketing “touch” added to those memory banks.

The consistency of the brand helps generate stronger neural pathways about your company in the memories of your prospects and customers. For the same reason, use your logo, colors and graphics consistently throughout your web content, marketing materials and communications. Create a theme and an image you want to portray and stick to it so prospects and customers can begin to recognize you and connect that recognition to the positive perception your brand helps create.


Get online and participate in the world wide web. The more your audience sees you, the more powerful your brand becomes. Experts say that people need at least seven exposures to a brand before they remember it and take action. This means you need to be interacting regularly with your prospects and customers to make sure they know you. However, that number depends on many factors, including the strength of competitor branding, how many options your prospects have to get the results you offer, and how well you get in front of your ideal client base at the moment they need what you offer. Use social media to facilitate the process.

Social media, as a component of your overall strategy, helps create brand awareness by generating potentially positive interactions with thousands of prospects. Use social media to show-up with your brand, whether it be via Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Know the questions prospects will ask, then answer them through posts, pictures, infographics, videos, webinars, blogs, and other avenues online.

Depending on the products or services you provide, consider putting yourself out there in the world of networking as well. If you are seeking a local client base, check out chambers of commerce, networking organizations, volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, and other community groups. You can participant in local events or hold events of your own. Explore as many options as possible.

Focus on what your brand does best.

If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll end up being nothing to everyone. Who has the problem being solved by your services or products? The easiest way to get in front of your ideal audience is to know as much about them as possible. Do your homework and create an ideal client profile. Know what problem your offerings solve for your customers, and why those offerings are the best possible option for your prospects.

This is your Unique Selling Proposition. Differentiate your brand around your strengths and your personality. Determine what your brand stands for, and deliver on your promises. Building a brand takes time, focus, and consistency. Decide what your message and your brand is going to be. Make sure it fits your personality and target audience. Work consistently at cultivating your brand in everything you do.

Be active online, participate in social networking and media. Communicate your brand in messages and activities, get involved locally, and focus on giving your audience what they want. That is a magnetic brand and a way to be in the Business Of Sustainable Success, like a boss!


Doreen Petty Coaching, Inc., Coaching the BOSS, content used under license, © Claire Communications

4 Steps to Using Social Media Effectively

social mediaI’ve been listening to and learning from a number of social media experts lately, in person and on-line. In doing so, I realized some fundamental tidbits. Many business owners, including me, have a scattershot approach to social media. My social media presence includes a page on Facebook, a profile on Twitter, a LinkedIn profile, and a place on Pinterest where I can share my favorite inspirations and personal interests. However, my links and posts are relatively random and not particularly organized in any meaningful way.

Do you find anything familiar in this? Social media is an important part of your overall marketing strategy. However, like any component of a marketing plan, it’s more powerful when there’s a plan in place.

I think the following 4 steps I’ve learned can help you, as a business owner, learn how to build a social media plan on which you can, and will, follow through.

  1. Identify a Goal: What do you want to accomplish with social media? Do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Do you want to build your email list? Do you want to sell more products or services? Do you want to reach more prospective clients? There are dozens of potential goals. Choose one goal to focus your attention on. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or complicated one. Choose one that makes sense for you and be specific. If you want to reach more potential clients, how many? If you want to drive traffic to your site, how much do you want to increase your traffic by?
  2. Choose Your Tool: Which sites do you want to use to achieve your goal? Chances are you already have profiles on the big players in social media. You may want to start with the sites you already have a following on. However, take a look at your page or profile. Does it support your goal? Can you improve your page or profile? Take those steps now.
  3. Plan Your Interaction: This is a big step and it can take some time to complete. You’ll want to identify a time that you interact online each day. For example, maybe you want to spend 30 minutes on social media each day. These 30 minutes will be spent connecting with others, commenting on posts, sharing information, and building your following. This process must include a content plan. What information will you share, how will you share it, and when will you share it? For example, maybe you’ll share infographics once a week and links to your recent blog posts once a week too. Consider types of posts and do each type once every week or two.
  4. Schedule Your Follow-Through: Finally, you’ll want to schedule time to plan content, create content, interact and assess your progress. If you can, take one day a month and create everything for the next 30 days. And you can use a number of automated tools to help you keep up with all of these steps.

If your business marketing strategy includes social media, make sure to plan it so that it’s easy for you to follow through. This basic review leaves much out of the discussion. There are more components that make a difference in the outcome of your social media strategy, not the least of which is how the various social media platforms perceive and use your content, so it will be helpful to learn more as you work with your strategy.

With all of this in mind, consider the golden threads, the activities, tasks, and functions, which directly and measurably impact your business growth and success. Is social media a golden thread for your business? Whenever you say yes to one activity, you are also saying no to something else. When you implement your plan for social media, you may want help for your non-golden thread activities. Social Media experts abound out there for a reason – many with formal training and certifications. They keep up on what’s important and how to maximize your on-line presence, so you don’t have to.

Feel free to ask me for a referral. I have several trusted specialists in my network who, depending on your needs and their specialties can make you very happy with your social media plan and its results!


Coaching the BOSS is a division of Doreen Petty Coaching, Inc; content derived from and used under license, © Claire Communications

What is Performance Review Like in Your Workplace?

Note: Performance and Talent Management have been common topics of conversation with my Business Coaching and Consulting clients recently.  So, I dug up an article I wrote back in September, 2014 as a guest blogger on the JuvodHR site.  This is a blatant plug for JuvodHR because this is the only site I’ve found that seamlessly ties job descriptions, performance strategies, and corrective actions together in an affordable web-based tool set to help small business owners manage employees more effectively.  I believe that using the JuvodHR tool set saves time, eliminates frustration (on the parts of managers and employees), and lowers the risk of liability because it’s hard to do bad performance management using these tools. A key place in the overall Performance Management Process that has great potential for impacting employee engagement and future productivity is the Performance Review stage – where the rubber meets the road in terms of development opportunity and often compensation treatment. So, what is performance review like in your workplace? Read the article and my appended note below to find out about my take on the subject. – Doreen

performance reviewWhat are you doing when you conduct performance reviews? If that is the time you choose to tell an employee all about what they have done and what you think about it – you’ve probably already done it wrong. First, by the time performance reviews roll around, your employees know exactly how they are doing (albeit on their own terms) – and if they don’t already know how you, the boss, thinks about their performance, then look to your performance as a leader of people. Performance Reviews should be just that, Reviews; conversations summarizing projects, competencies, expectations, accolades, progress, opportunities, etc. – based on day-to-day interactions over the review period (and ONLY over the review period). Performance feedback and acknowledgements should be taking place every day in your workplace.

OK, so now that we have that straight, what exactly are you reviewing? In my old corporate HR days, we had an elaborate and time-consuming process of setting goals, developing metrics, and weaving an invisible golden thread from company objectives down to individual goals so each person could, theoretically, understand and track their contributions to organizational success. The process was so complicated that goals were often set well after the ‘performance period’ was underway. Throughout my HR career, I don’t think I talked to a single person who looked forward to performance review season – not the initial goal setting, the mid-year review, nor the end-of-year review. Goals that were set at the beginning of the year were dusted off and paraded around only for the mid-year and end-of-year reviews. It was treated as something that had to be squeezed into already busy schedules and the execution of the process was often painful for employees and bosses alike.

The one thing that could have made those performance reviews so much easier, less painful, and more effective – but was missing from the whole process – was the job description. The job description already has a functional description of the role, the knowledge, skills, and competencies required of a job holder, essential functions of the position, and other relevant information that tells everyone what to expect and how to determine if an incumbent is contributing effectively. The information on a job description is specific, measurable, achievable, and reasonable – OH, look at that — almost all of the requirements of SMART Goal criteria! Even the last criterion, Time-bound, is added in the practicality of setting goals for a defined performance period.

Goals developed from a job description practically pop off the page, and I don’t have to do it myself, because the JuvodHR tool does it for me – a completely practical and obvious list of assessable factors based on the job description content. Finding the golden thread between an individual’s operational functions and broader organizational objectives is easy when looking at contributions through job descriptions. When I heard about JuvodHR and saw for myself how they combined the job description with the performance review, I admit to dropping my jaw in a Hallelujah moment. How very cool is this – an affordable, easy, and quick way to engage employees in a non-painful performance review process that can be accessed and used as often as needed within the partnership between an employee and his or her boss. Wow – a performance review process that can actually contribute positively to the employee experience!

Why do you need JuvodHR? Only you can answer that question, but consider this: What can be true for you if your performance process could contribute to better relationships, help facilitate a more engaging employee experience, and increase the effectiveness of performance conversations in your workplace?

So now you know, I am a fan of and its awesome job description and performance management tools for small businesses that make it easy to get everyone on the same page for job expectations and results, as well as corrective actions when needed.  An important thing to remember is that performance management should be part of an overall talent management strategy.  We all want the best and brightest employees – our businesses depend on hiring the people who can contribute to business success, so the business can contribute to their success.  Sadly, some people hire talented employees for their brains, then manage as if all they got were the hands.  No wonder employees end up disengaged and looking for something better. Employees need to know they are appreciated and valued in the workplace. Build your performance management strategy to support overall talent management, and make sure there are plenty of tools and strategies to recognize and reward people for giving their best to your business.

Most people want to know what is expected of them and they want to know what they can do to improve their contributions – so regular feedback and respectful corrections go a long way to having happy workers.  Positive recognition will take you even further. If you spend more of your time finding reasons to recognize employee contributions with sincere gratitude and meaningful feedback, your employees will spend more of their time making your business more successful.

And, oh, by the way – if you are a business owner with employees doing jobs without job descriptions, then you need Juvod HR more than you know.  Set up your free trial at and you can have a job description just minutes later.  Really.

Is Talent Management Still a Thing?

Talent ManagementTalent Management has been talked about since the phrase was coined from McKinsey & Company research in 1997 and subsequently reported in the book, The War for Talent, in 2001. In the real world, or at least in my real world, it meant a strategic approach to the employee experience – with consideration for every workplace activity from talent acquisition & hiring, to on-boarding, compensation, personal & professional development, diversity, performance assessments, growth, succession, staffing, retention, engagement, training, and eventually exits and alumni relationships. I have always predicated the concept of talent management on the belief that the job of a leader is to help make other people more successful. While systems, processes, and tools play a significant part in talent management, it only works if it is the job of everyone in an organization and modeled by the behaviors of the leaders.

I ask, is it still a thing, when maybe the question is, was it ever a real thing and can it ever be a thing when big corporations are focused on revenues and workers have become part of strategic and not-so-strategic cost-cutting efforts. Has corporate employment become more about what companies can get from employees rather than how businesses can make employees more successful, so their contributions benefit both the company and the people who make those contributions? After all, regardless of whether politics (at least in the U.S.) might gift a corporation with human status, it only exists in the efforts of the workforce. The rest is just paperwork.

Early on in the history of talent management, some HR people (and I was one of them) thought it should incorporate every aspect of the employee experience, as noted in the first paragraph above. As time went on, various surveys of talent management departments in corporations began showing a shrinkage of components in the field. Compensation, and even the activities around talent acquisition and staffing fell away, leaving for the most part, succession planning, professional development, performance assessment, and management of high-potential populations. These days, it seems that many talent management strategies are focused on acquiring the best new hires, while putting little or no real effort into employee engagement and retention.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, based on their current website structure, Talent Management involves career management, competency management, diversity & inclusion, performance management, succession management, talent strategy, and workforce planning. While these categories may nicely incorporate most of the talent management components I listed earlier, they appear to leave acquisition, compensation, retention, and other variables outside of the boundaries of talent management in overall business strategy. However, other categories in the practices listed at Bersin do show there is still plenty of research and consulting activity in these areas.

A global search through for the phrase, “talent management,” finds 478 books, 376 academic journal articles, 1,478 magazine articles, and 6,414 newspaper mentions since 2010. So, while Talent Management is definitely still a thing in print, I still wonder how much it benefits every employee every day. That is something that can only be known by each employee, each leader, and through the collective experience of organization members. Maybe the reality is that while Talent Management is clearly an industry, the impact of Talent Management is still simply another component to the employee experience and that only truly matters at the individual level. The benefit of a robust and integrated Talent Management strategy, based on a perusal of the Questia results, is in greater revenues for the company, more effective leadership and higher levels of job satisfaction for the employees, which manifests in better retention levels of high value employees and easier exits of employees who don’t fit the culture and talent needs, just to name a few.

Now the question morphs again; this time to, “Is Talent Management a thing in my organization and if not, why not?”


Perfectionism: Take the Quiz

excellence vs perfectionI’ve been known to tell my clients that perfectionism is a tool for procrastinators and I’d like to explain what I mean by that. Almost everyone pursues perfection — doing the best job you can, setting goals and working hard to reach them, maintaining high standards, and achieving excellence. But perfectionism isn’t about any of this. Perfectionism is a long, maddening drive down a never-ending road for flawlessness; it provides no rest stops for mistakes, personal limitations, or the changing of minds. Often, people driving for flawlessness believe that only in that end can they experience success. They become unwilling to achieve an outcome that might not be perfect, as they perceive it – so procrastination becomes a way to avoid a potentially imperfect result.

The reality is that procrastination is the least of the issues caused by an unwavering commitment to perfectionism and flawlessness. Perfectionism can cause feelings of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt; it can cripple self-esteem, stifle creativity, and put a stumbling block in the way of intimate friendships and love relationships. Ultimately, it can create or aggravate illnesses such as eating disorders, manic-depressive mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse. Perfectionism can affect how we ‘show up’ in the world in other ways as well; if we impose perfectionism on ourselves, we are likely to judge other people based on our own expectations of flawlessness, which can further block our ability to move forward.

Everybody has some “built-in” perfectionism, especially if you live in an achievement-oriented, competitive culture. To discover how much perfectionism plays a role in your life, complete this quiz by reading through the bullet points and notating the statements that ring true for you.

  • I never do anything halfway; it’s all or nothing for me – Every time.
  • People who do things halfway make me angry or disgust me.
  • I believe there’s a certain way to do things and they should always be done that way.
  • I get angry or defensive when I make mistakes. I hate to make them.
  • I often procrastinate on starting projects. I seldom meet deadlines. Or if I do, I kill myself meeting them.
  • I feel humiliated when things aren’t perfect.
  • I don’t like to admit not knowing how to do something or to being a beginner. If I can’t do something well, I won’t do it.
  • People say I expect too much of myself. Or of them.
  • In my family, I could never completely measure up to expectations.
  • I’m hard on myself when I lose, even if it’s only a friendly game or contest.
  • I often withdraw from others and from group activities.
  • I don’t think work should be fun or pleasurable.Even when I accomplish something, I feel let down or empty.
  • I criticize myself and others excessively.
  • I like to be in control; if I can’t be in control then I won’t participate.
  • No matter how much I have done, there’s always more I could do.
  • I don’t delegate often and when I do, I always double-check to make sure the job is done right. It never is.
  • I believe it is possible to do something perfectly and if I keep at it, I can do it perfectly.
  • Forgetting and forgiving are two things I never do easily or well.

Did you see yourself in several of the bullet point statements?  There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Striving to be really good is excellence; trying to be flawless is perfectionism. If you’re concerned about your perfectionist behavior, don’t hesitate to contact me at


© Doreen Petty Coaching; this content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Quiz: Are You Being Bullied?

adult bully characterThese days, bullying in schools and cyberspace is an important issue and a hot topic in neighborhoods, schools, on TV, and on-line. However, bullying is not just the purview of children; adult bullying is more widespread than you might think. It takes place in the home, the community, on-line, and in the workplace. Bullying at work and at home causes more problems for business than just people not getting along. According to statistics published at, a survey conducted by in 2012 reported that over a third of respondents reported workplace bullying. A significant portion of the surveyed population indicated that bullying led to health problems and feeling forced to quit a job. Bullying isn’t always physical – often it is verbal and psychological. The lack of physical scars doesn’t minimize the long-lasting effects of bullying such as stress, depression, shame, and low self-esteem. Harmful health effects can include anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. Working adults who are at the effect of bullying can experience lower productivity and more frequent absenteeism.

Take this quiz to determine if you—or someone you know—might be the victim of bullying:

1. My spouse, partner, or someone else close to me repeatedly insults me in front of our friends and then passes it off as a joke or tells me, laughing, that I’m too “thin-skinned.”

2. My partner is jealous and hostile when I spend time with my friends.

3. My spouse controls all our finances; I have to ask every time I need money for even our most basic expenses.

4. My significant other constantly denies what he said just days or even hours ago and then acts like I’m losing my mind.

5. My partner threatens to leave and implies he will harm himself (or me) if I don’t go along with what he wants.

6. My mother criticizes how I look and what I wear whenever I see her.

7. My sibling is always trying to stir up trouble by lying about me and setting me up against other family members.

8. My father is charming and kind when people from outside the family are around, but when alone with me he is manipulative and mean.

9. My neighbor shouts and makes threatening comments when I do the slightest thing that he deems wrong.

10. My co-worker finds ways to sabotage my position in the company including spreading nasty rumors about me.

11. My boss takes credit for my ideas and then threatens to demote or fire me if I speak up.

12. My boss assigns tasks beyond my skills level or with impossible deadlines and berates me in front of my co-workers.

13. A woman on my volunteer committee puts down any ideas I offer, cuts me off when I’m talking, and makes sarcastic remarks at my expense.

14. People at work exclude me from group activities and make me a target of pranks or negative comments.

If you answered true to some of these statements, you may be the victim of a bully. There are ways to take control of the situation.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like support in dealing with this issue.


Doreen Petty Coaching derived content under license, © Claire Communications

It’s 2015: Do You Know Where Your Personal Brand Is?

personal brand wordleYou have a personal brand – even if you’ve never thought about it before reading this sentence. How you show up in the world, what you believe about yourself and what other people believe about you, all creates a clear and memorable impression about who you are and what you do. Developing and managing your personal brand gives you greater control of your career and personal destiny. For a business owner, it is practically a requirement in today’s economy. Take the Self-Quiz below to see if your personal brand needs a little tweaking, a total remodel, or something in between. Answer each question with True or False:

1. I know what’s important to me, and I can list the values that inform my work and approach.

2. When colleagues (and those I work with at all levels) think of me, what they think is clear and consistent from person to person.

3. I know how I create value for my company and my clients. They do, too.

4. My personal “brand message” is targeted and focused.

5. I put my brand, my unique contribution and/or approach, on everything I do: presentations, reports, meetings, deals, etc.

6. I look to connect my personal brand to every situation possible and appropriate.

7. In my business and personal life, I have a vision by which I lead myself.

8. My business strategy, tactics, and systems are consistent with my personal brand plan.

9. I focus on growing and nurturing my professional network, both through offline approaches (e.g., associations, speaking, etc.) and online strategies (e.g., social media, blog, forum participation, etc.).

10. I look to find what’s distinct about me and what I bring to the table, rather than try to conform to the norm. In essence, I create my own “unique selling proposition” (USP).

11. I establish appropriate partnerships that will extend my brand and help me get complementary brand value.

12. I make sure that everything that surrounds my brand (my office, my website, my customer service, etc.) communicates the same brand message.

If you answered true to at least eight statements, you’re well on your way to building a powerful personal brand. Remember: Managing your personal brand goes beyond creating a distinct personality, it also requires telling the world about it. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like support shining up your personal brand.

Ockham’s Razor: 14th century philosophy meets 20th century vernacular: KISS

razor illustration

Cut to the Chase, Keep it Simple, Cut through the Chaff, Get down to Brass Tacks – what’s your favorite phrase when you want to Get to the Heart of the Matter?

For those not familiar with Ockham’s razor – it is the philosophy of a 14th century Franciscan friar who was also a philosopher and logician. William of Ockham taught that when faced with multiple, equally viable explanations for a given situation, the simpler one should be chosen. More directly, the tenet implies that one should make no more assumptions than the minimum required for achieving a decision. William of Ockham was not the first who wrote of such a parsimonious approach, but his has found its way into the fields of modern medicine, physics, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, and even management theory. Where is the potential application in Human Resources, from operations and management perspectives? If you are a manager of people, a business owner, or an HR professional, consider how many times you are faced with assessing multiple options, competing models, varying perspectives, and even accusations of malicious behavior, in your work life. Is Ockham’s razor a viable stepping stone in assessing the relative value of one perspective or solution against another?

At first glance, we might see William of Ockham’s idea of stripping away all the fluff around arguments is a good thing. Get down to basics and, using a popular adage, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” The simpler of two positions with the same outcome is the best. There’s one small (maybe miniscule) problem with that idea. This nominalist position appears to allow the user to assume that any factors shared by the various options do not have independent realities. That is like assuming that everyone looking at or into a given situation will interpret all factors the same and have exactly the same perceptions. Instead, we know that people see things differently based on their own experience and beliefs. The implication for HR folks – whether we are coaches, generalists, business partners, or specialist practitioners – is that whenever we investigate or explore a situation or problem, we must take into account ALL of the factors involved, including the unknown motivations of observers. Furthermore, HR practitioners must help business owners and people managers to do the same. Because of that, we cannot assume that the simplest answer or outcome is, in fact, correct.

While I have little experience in the empirical investigation methods of the physical sciences, I am somewhat more experienced with scientific methods of psychological study. However, arguably less scientific are the inquiries and investigations undertaken by HR professionals and people managers faced with a workplace dispute or accusation of inappropriate behavior. I expect that any investigator can get carried away with the removal of “unnecessary” baggage surrounding a story, whose versions vary depending on who is doing the telling. Some assumptions with which we begin an investigation can help us understand and explain the “why” along with the “what” in our inquiry. Our assumptions can begin to create structure around our investigation, if only to provide opportunities to disprove or corroborate those assumptions.

If we apply what I like to think of as the modern version of Ockham’s razor, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS), we should prefer the simpler of two conclusions that explain the facts equally well. Doesn’t this mean that we need to know all the assumptions, positions, or factors for both conclusions before we decide which one is simpler? It also follows that anyone trying to validate our “simpler” conclusion (e.g., another investigator on appeal), they would likely have to repeat the steps necessary to get to our same conclusion (or not?). Is it possible to “keep it simple, stupid” and still address the needs of everyone involved in any given inquiry? Or, will some practitioners fall victim to KISS in the face of time constraints, and miss critical factors that would have shifted the inquiry to another conclusion? In scientific method, we test the predicted outcomes, not the assumptions leading to the original theory or situation under study. In inquiries related to Human Resources, it seems more natural to study our assumptions leading to the conclusions to be sure we are fair to all parties.

While researching and writing this article, I come to my own conclusion that while Ockham’s razor may be attractive as a decision-making model, it is probably not the best choice for a guiding light to HR applications. We might, instead, look to Einstein for pithy guidance, as he wrote in his autobiographical notes, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” However, even that is a tad too general for me. Instead, in my research, I happily stumbled upon the development of a razor in several forms, including a line attributed to Napoleon, “never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” A more complex and earlier version of the same concept comes from Goethe in his The Sorrows of Young Werther, “. . . misunderstanding and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice.” The most recent version of this idea falls to what is identified as Hanlon’s razor or Heinlein’s razor, depending on where you look, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” though Heinlein’s version warns us not to rule out malice. Personally, when called to investigate accusations of malice, I would much rather find incompetence. How about you?

Originally published, with minor edits, by the author in 2011 – Toolbox for HR

Where there’s a will, there’s a way . . .

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people begin sentences with the words, “I want . . .” and “I wish . . .”   For example, the other day a friend said, “I wish I could take a vacation this summer.”  A client said, “I want to grow my business this year.”  At a networking event, I heard another person say, “We need to find a way to streamline the back-room processes,” (this while discussing problems with efforts to increase customer-facing time).  In these three examples, it seems as if all three people are looking to the future, focused on something positive for their lives and businesses.  In fact, I believe these words can be self-limiting.

Consider instead what would happen if these sentences started with, “I will . . .” –  I will take a vacation this summer. – I will grow my business this year. – We will find a way to stream-line the back-room processes.  All of a sudden, these statements are goals, rather than intentions or hopes that depend on some magical ingredient to make them true.  A goal can be quantified and acted on.  Once we say, “I will” we begin with a mindset of commitment – a choice to make something happen.

When you hear yourself start a sentence with, “I wish,” “I want,” or “I need,” stop and re-phrase to “I will.”  If you feel a goal there, write it down as soon as possible.  A goal written is more likely to be achieved.  Then take the time to translate that statement into SMART criteria.  If you are unfamiliar with that, it means to state goals with these components: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.  Let’s take the example of my client who wants to grow her business this year.

First, she restated her comment to, “I will grow my business this year.”  To gain specificity, she restated what it means to grow the business, which for her involves increasing her revenue 30% by increasing her client base.  In discussing how that would be measured, she decided that she would start with the revenue from the end of last year, and set the year-end goal to be 30% higher, measuring it monthly to see if specific marketing efforts were contributing to revenue by helping to increase her client base.  In exploring whether this goal is achievable, she talked to a few competitors about their growth and looked at her own revenue and client movement over the past eight quarters.  In the end, she decided that 30% was a good number.  Further examination of her business financials and her ability to take on the number of new clients the goal requires, she also decided that the goal is relevant to her overall business strategy and mission.  Finally, she addressed the time factor by clarifying that she wanted the 30% growth during her current fiscal year.

Today, she sent me her restated goal.  She went from, “I want to grow my business this year” to “I will increase my revenue by 30% in fiscal 2012, by growing my client base.”  Now she is working on brainstorming ideas for growing her client base.  What she initially identified as a “want” is now something tangible that she can use to define a future state for her business.  Soon, she will have an action plan that will define the steps she will take to get her there.

What do you want, wish for, or need?  What will you do to get there?  Even the most amazing achievements start with the simplest words, “I will . . .”