As part of a training programme, we conducted an experiment to review the news and find out how much of the information provided was opinion and how much was fact.  To our surprise we found that the majority was opinion – the reporter’s, the politician’s, the interviewee’s.

Studies have also shown that when something is in the media, we can often distort the significance of the event.  For example, if a crime scene is reported at a town we’re about to move to we might get the immediate impression that it’s not a nice area.  But is it actually a bad area, or is this a very rare occurrence when you take into consideration the numbers?

Additionally, as an unusual event receives coverage, it can become escalated and cause public concern, giving rise to even more coverage, with potentially political consideration and funds diverted to it.

Our views can be distorted by what we believe is important, the frequency of an event and the ease of which we can recall it.  This can happen at home with our relationships (eg. when people are asked how much of the housework they’d done, they can recall their contribution more easily than those of others), as well as our working relationships and how team members might think that they have contributed more than others to the overall task.

So, if this is the case with the news and with our view of our own contribution, could it not be the same when we are looking at statistics, project results/status, service levels etc?  And should we be seeking to ask the non-obvious questions when given some data to ensure that you are not missing a very important point or giving it unnecessary attention?

For example, when asked to reduce the response times for answering calls in a contact centre to save on resources, the other variables hadn’t been taken into consideration eg. the longest time to wait for a call to be answered, the number who give up and call back again (increasing volumes), impact on customer loyalty.

It can also be the case that an organisation’s culture could be preventing people from providing the true picture.  A blame culture, fear of making mistakes, senior executives who prefer not to hear that their ideas may not be workable etc, all contribute to an environment where many end up staying quiet, against their better judgement, or risk losing their job.  All leaders have a responsibility to ask the right questions and get the full answers (warts and all) to make sure that they do not jump to conclusions.

So, when you next get given a set of data, step back and consider whether it could be only giving you one half of the picture.  Is it analysing all the information needed?  Is there another side to the story?  Ask some more questions, until you’re satisfied.  Are you building an environment of trust, where your team members feel confident to provide you with all the information you need?

It can be only too easy to get bogged down with the information presented (especially with the time constraints many leaders are faced with), but even with the news I find myself considering the validity, reliability, and significance of what’s being reported.  When it’s reported that an event could happen to 1 in 10 people, actually that’s 9 out of 10 it won’t happen to!!  Some people may call that “positive spin”, but I call that looking at all the facts. 🙂

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4 comments

  1. admin

    Thanks to Laurence Campbell:

    Well, where do I start……

    Have you ever read “The Secret”? Fantastic book all about the power of positive thinking and in this they mention how negative the media is, this is why I never listen to the news or buy newspapers. It is all for sensationalism and attracting viewers and readers. Politicians work on spin…at the end of the day the government has a budget, they have “X” to take in and “Y” to spend. If they lose a certain amount from “Y” then they have to increase “X”. It is all about balance and depends on how well the politician puts it over. Take Alex Salmond for example…he makes out how great he is by freezing poll tax for the 6th year, free prescriptions, free bridge crossings, etc. All sounds great but by freezing poll tax we have fewer services; 90% of Scots already had free prescriptions and the other 10% could easily pay; fine having free bridge crossings but if you are saving 60miles then you should pay and the bridges still require maintenance. As I said previously, a lot of spin and Mr Salmond is great at it.
    With regards to newspapers, what attracts people? Bad news, don’t ask me why but that’s the way it is. If an editor can change good news to bad it sells papers. It’s a weird phenomena and I only understood when I read the Secret. It borders on the morbid to be honest, the reporters and editors know that.

    When it comes to statistics, well yet again I despise them. “There are lies, damn lies and statistics” said Benjamin Disraeli and he wasn’t far wrong. Recently we have had turnstiles installed at work that can tell everyone who is on-site at real-time. Now they say this is for security however they will use the figures for “statistics” on timekeeping…so what stops them on getting statistics on all staff called “laurence campbell”?

    My company states it has a “no blame” culture yet I know numerous people that have letters on their file or written warnings due to minor misdemeanours found during accident/incident investigations. I am now finding that when I am chairing an investigation staff are hiding the truth in fear or reprisals and this is not good for safety and morale. I trust my staff implicitly and I hope they are likewise with me…but that has taken a few years in maturing and they are still scared of making a mistake in fear of having a disciplinary hearing. In my industry both are apparently treated with the highest regard but I have my grave doubts. This has been accentuated in recent years by the government privatising nuclear decommissioning to the highest bidder, more often than most American companies.

    As part of my CMI diploma I did an assessment on data analysis which I found particularly interesting. I sometimes wish some of my managers had done the same course and would have gained the knowledge I have.

  2. admin

    Hi Laurence

    Great to hear from you.

    Yes, I have read “The Secret” and it certainly has some very good points on this subject. I also saw first-hand how the media can concentrate on one side of the story, when working in the Financial Services industry at the beginning of the latest market crash – highlighting when the markets went down, but not mentioning any increases!

    With regard to the turnstiles at your offices, can I ask whether you have raised your concerns with senior management on this? There’s obviously an appropriate way of doing this, but providing positive feedback about how it may be misinterpreted by employees could be beneficial to them.

    You mention that you wish that your managers could get some insight into the data analysis part of your CMI. Is there some inspiring information that you could find a way of sharing with them that could really help them with their leadership development?

  3. admin

    Thanks to Laurence Campbell:

    The turnstiles have been brought up on a few occasions, more recently by senior union reps but the management deny wrongdoing and basically say that if you are working to within your contracted hours then you have nothing to fear. It doesn’t create a good atmosphere and as far as I see it timekeeping is down to line management, it is not a senior managers issue.

    I like your idea of using some inspirational information to try to get through to my senior managers, I will put a bit of thought to it to see what angle I could come from. Will keep you updated.

  4. Pingback: Spotting Those Who Manage Up Too Well | Assiem

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