The danger of the single story

Do you know the TED talks? These are inspiring presentations in various fields of science, arts and technology. I would like to share with you today, one of the most viewed videos, by Chimamanda Adichie, on the dangers of the single story. She emphasizes the importance of multiplying the sources of information.

I really invite you to watch her video. With over 8 million views, it is truly inspiring. The heart of the message is that the single story is about telling the same thing, repeatedly, until it becomes so.

In social psychology this effect is called“self-fulfilling prophecy“. It describes the transformation of an individual or group simply by the belief of how the group or individual will act, thus causing the prophecy to come true. It is the “I told you so” syndrome.

How do you see your teams? Do you have any prejudices or prophecies, which turn out to be more and more true in time? Do you ever think that no matter what controls are in place, your teams will not respect their authority limits on their files?

It’s pretty amazing to imagine how much managers’ thinking can impact the results of operational teams. Beyond the observations, what can you do to avoid this situation?

Multiply the sources of information

The safest technique is to go to the field, the famous Gemba! A dashboard (or several) compiles the performance of your operations. You know how to read and understand these dashboards, but you should be interested in the people who produce them.

First of all, those who collect the data, record it, compile it and format it. How many are they? How many steps does your data go through before it is delivered to you? What kind of manipulation does your data undergo? To summarize, it is important to understand how you see the reality of operations.

Then, go back to the source – to the people who produce value in your organization and feed the data from their work. Does the data represent their performance, or are they rat tails? This may be an opportunity to redefine your organization’s performance based on good indicators and to multiply the sources of information.

Beware of micro-management: it is not about controlling the work on the whole production line of your performance indicators… The objective is to understand the reality. You need to know how it is transmitted to you. This way, you will better judge each dashboard and take the appropriate actions.

A dashboard represents a fragmented view of the organization. While it is useful for day-to-day management, you need to be in touch with the field to have a more complete and real vision of operations.