Those who have knowledge and experience in the dynamics we are trying to reshape have the right to a point of view and we need to learn from them. Everyone else might have an opinion on the subject, but they lack the knowledge and experience to be helpful, writes Dave Hanna
“Haven’t you noticed that opinion without knowledge is always a poor thing? At the best it is blind…”– Plato
Plato’s observation reminded me of a conversation I once had with a client CEO. He was commissioning me to work on a major organisational change that would reshape a huge portion of the business. He said, “I want you to interview some people who have the right to a point of view on this subject to get their input about our future organisation.”
At first, I interpreted his phrase “the right to a point of view” as somewhat elitist. As we discussed further, I realised what he meant meshed with Plato’s statement: those who have knowledge and experience in the dynamics we are trying to reshape have the right to a point of view and we need to learn from them. Everyone else might have an opinion on the subject, but they lack the knowledge and experience to be helpful.
Today many people voice opinions on proposed changes to strategy, structure or culture in hopes that doing so will influence the outcome.
Truth or Opinion?
Everyone may have the right to voice an opinion, but not all opinions are based on facts, first-hand knowledge, or relevant experience. Too often we assume our opinions are factual and true. For instance, which of the following statements are true and which are opinions?
- “Research has indicated that a person’s pulse rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate increase when the person is under stress. All people, therefore, should do stress management techniques on a daily basis.”
- “You should think twice about starting your own business. There are 582 million entrepreneurs in the world and 22.5 per cent of them fail in the first year.”
- “Our goal should be to remain the low-cost producer.”
Here are the answers:
Research has indicated that a person’s pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate increase when the person is under stress.
All employees, therefore, should do stress management techniques on a daily basis. (Based on what medical research?)
There are 582 million entrepreneurs in the world and 22.5 per cent of them fail in the first year.
You should think twice about starting your own business.
(Is this statement capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence?)
“Our goal should be to remain the low-cost producer.”
(The new general manager asked the question, “Are we, in fact, the low-cost producer today?” Research into the facts yielded the answer: No!)
So often in strategic business discussions, opinions masquerade as facts and shape decisions.
A 2018 study of Media and News by the Pew Research Centre asked participants to identify 10 statements as being either true or opinion in a similar manner to our statements above. Here were the results:
An alarming percentage of participants failed to correctly identify many statements. One interesting observation in the pollsters’ analysis was the propensity for participants to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their own personal opinion. When they incorrectly classified factual statements as opinions, they most often disagreed with the statement.
Perhaps this is what Leonardo da Vinci meant when he said, “The greatest deception men suffer is their own opinions.”
Now, why is all this information relevant to HR professionals?
Truth or Opinions: Implications for HR
Too often, the HR point of view is assumed by others to be biased in favour of what’s right for the people and not what’s right for the business. This bias does a disservice to both. Here are four steps you might take to earn the right to a point of view on business issues:
- Understand the facts of the company’s business performance.
Read and digest your annual report, business briefings and updates, and general business literature to learn the “facts” of the business. (Admittedly, many outsider opinions are just that – opinions. But those opinions shape a marketplace view of your company – and that is an important factor any company needs to understand.)
- Connect your priorities to business priorities.
While working with a well-known global company, we asked HR managers to describe one of their major projects. Nearly all of them described things such as:
- Improve our hiring effectiveness
- Conduct training for new supervisors
- Roll out new company plans and/or benefits
When reviewing their project title, we asked them to explain the business purpose behind their initiative. “You are pursuing this project SO WHAT happens?” – we got past their blank stares and began to shape the business reason behind the project. For instance:
- Improve our hiring effectiveness SO THAT we improve our retention rate from 65 per cent to 85 per cent. (Retaining 100 more managers means a savings of $15 million)
When we describe what we are doing and its impact on the business, lukewarm or opposing colleagues might support more strongly our initiative.
Everyone may have the right to voice an opinion, but not all opinions are based on facts, first-hand knowledge, or relevant experience. Too often we assume our opinions are factual and true.
- Gain experience with your business and HR colleagues to deeply understand what things need improvement.
In every new work assignment, I began by interviewing all my key “customers” about their objectives, helpful factors, and obstacles. Compiling the individual interview data into a collective statement of my initial priorities always led to the highest levels of teamwork and cooperation.
- Join the business discussions and offer your point of view and the supporting facts for your position.
In following the first three steps, you will have earned the right to a point of view on business issues. Minus this preparation, your point of view is an opinion that may be irrelevant (or inappropriate) to the issue. Members of the decision table who demonstrate the right to a point of view find that their perspective is credible and deserves to be considered – as a business partner.