I recently sat with a client while a very large consulting firm reviewed the results of a benchmarking study. At the end of the meeting the senior executive and I concluded that while there was some value in the study, in the main it had two very big problems.

1. Where it provided data that gave him comfort, it told him nothing about what to do differently to improve. It’s justification that he shouldn’t be fired. Big deal.

2. Some of the data couldn’t be compared to much of anything. However, it took time and space in the enormous report to try to disguise the weakness in the data. Again, nothing to act on.

The money was not well spent. That isn’t the problem. The issue is this executive thinks he’s done something. He hasn’t done anything but feels better about his department. That is the problem. 

This will sound familiar to most readers. Here’s what is happening.

1. Misaligned objectives. The executive who hired the big consulting firm to do a benchmarking study is not on the same page with his boss about what they are trying to achieve.

2. Belief in data that isn’t. It either isn’t data or it isn’t relevant data. In this case, both.

3. Using the wrong tool. If you don’t define your objectives clearly the decisions you make about “how” will be right only by accident.

4. Ignoring emotional needs. You can try, many have gone before you, but you cannot squeeze emotion out of decisions. No need. Figure out what the emotional needs are, meet those that are reasonable and confront those that aren’t. His boss has a need to demonstrate, even if only to himself, that he has the right guy in the job. His boss needs to have confidence.

5. Breathing your own exhaust. This is the mindless approach in which needs are assumed, methods are determined by tradition and results therefore vehemently defended. It’s a doom loop.

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