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So, Can We Talk!?

An ongoing series of informational entries

Honesty, Integrity, and Accountability


Richard Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC

My approach to creating this essay shall be to interlock the three concepts in a flowing fashion.

Honesty is going to take you places in life that you never could have dreamed and it’s the easiest thing you can practice in order to be happy, successful and fulfilled. Honesty is part of the underpinning of my core values and principles. Honesty cuts through deception and knifes its way through deceit and lies. As a result, honesty leads to a fulfilling, free life (at least for me).

Honesty is not just about telling the truth. It’s about being real with yourself and others about who you are, what you want and what you need to live your most authentic life. Honesty promotes openness, empowers us and enables us to develop consistency in how we present the facts. Honesty sharpens our perception and allows us to observe everything around us with clarity.

I’ve always carried myself with a candidness (and I’d like to believe genuineness) which demonstrates a reflection of my thoughts. At times, I’ve been candid to a fault. But overall, I live with zero regrets. I believe candidness, openness, and honesty have benefited me more than any other qualities in how I comport myself.

Honesty has endeared me to many people of influence and, simply to my friends and loved ones. Honesty is never contrived or inauthentic — it’s always the genuine article. I’d much rather lay all my cards on the table and be forthcoming and transparent about my goals and intents. In the role of a Labor Relations professional, I believe this to be critical.

Honesty is the best use of everyone’s time. It’s led me to form a network of family, friends and business partners who I trust and respect, as we can all mutually benefit from this truth.

There’s no coincidence that perhaps the most respected American in history, President Abraham Lincoln, is often referred to by the moniker, Honest Abe Lincoln was shrewd, direct and honest in all of his human relations transactions and dealings. He was fair and just, a lesson he learned as a store clerk in dealing with customers at an early age.

Subsequently, I believe that Honesty and Integrity must go hand in hand. Integrity means being true to ourselves and being honest, upright, and decent in our dealings with others. When we are guided by integrity, our thoughts and words are in line with each other; our actions align with our principles. Our conduct speaks for us, more eloquently than words ever could. It becomes the basis for both reputation and self-respect. Integrity demands courage but delivers untroubled sleep.

Developing integrity requires internal honesty because we can’t be honest with others unless we are honest with ourselves. It requires self-awareness since we cannot accurately communicate what we do not know.

Furthermore, people of integrity can be counted on to stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular, and to behave with honor even when there is no one around to see. Integrity allows other people to trust us because they know that we value our commitments and seek to live by them. It is one of the cornerstones of loving relationships and shared endeavors. I am firmly committed to that and it is one of my core values.

Integrity, the antonym is dishonesty and the synonym is an honor. This paints a fairly clear picture within these two words. Honesty is a pure ethical principle through which a person can earn respect and honor. Respect and honor from others help build lasting personal and business relationships, which leads to long-term success.

My father was part of a committee to formulate the guiding principles of Union. They wrote this statement as a cornerstone for their business: “We will demand honesty and integrity in everything we do.” Beneath this statement, they included a “Why this is important?” clause that states “By consistently doing the right thing with conviction, candor, compassion, and courage, we will earn and keep the respect of our clients and coworkers. We must always be respectful of and accountable to our clients, our coworkers, and ourselves.” I remember this as if had happened yesterday.

Finally, what is accountability? Think about it! My Mother would always say that “Accountability exists in the space between language and action”.

Consider this, accountability shows up when something goes wrong and people start to lay blame. They start pointing fingers. In reality, winning begins with accountability. You cannot sustain success without accountability. It is an absolute requirement!

I’ve learned to install accountability on the front end of interactions … before the outcome is known. In my opinion, successful organizations front-load accountability into their strategy. When front-loaded, accountability breeds better relationships, eliminates surprises, and vastly improves job satisfaction and performance.

Accountability should not be defined as a punitive response to something going wrong.

So, as a first step on the road to creating an accountability culture, we must redefine and streamline “accountability” to carry a more positive connotation:

What Is Accountability, Really? I am of the belief that people deal with us based on what they think about us, not what we think they should think about us. So, I make a commitment, I have to fulfill that commitment in the eyes of others. It is not good enough to fulfill the commitment in my eyes, I have to fulfill the commitment in the eyes of others. That is the tricky part.

Simply put, when we’re accountable, it is necessary for us to go to our customers and the people we work for – and yes, the people who work with us – and ask them, “How am I doing?” This allows them to hold us accountable – in their eyes – for our commitments.

Growing up in New York City during Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, I remember this: Whenever Koch greeted someone, he’d say, “Hey, I’m Mayor Ed Koch. How am I doing?” He constantly asked for feedback. He was being accountable in his constituents’ eyes.

Was Ed Koch the best mayor in New York’s history? That depends on whom you talk to, but he continually asked for feedback … and the voters loved it!

In closing, I am of the strong belief that Honesty, Integrity, and Accountability are the interlocking hands for assured success.

What do you think?

© 2019.

All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

The Expanding Roles of the Human Resources Professional


By: Richard Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC and

Genevieve Perez, Associate, Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC

Some industry commentators call the function of Human Resources the last bastion of bureaucracy. Traditionally, the role of the Human Resource professional in many organizations has been to serve as the systematizing, policing arm of executive management. Their role was more closely aligned with personnel and administration functions that were viewed by the organization as paperwork. This is because the initial Human Resources functions needed, in many companies, came out of the administration or finance department areas. Because hiring employees, paying employees, and dealing with benefits were the organization's first Human Resources needs, bringing in finance or administration staff as Human Resources staff is not surprising.

Administrative Functions and Executive Agendas

In this role, the Human Resources professional served executive agendas well but was frequently viewed as a roadblock by much of the rest of the organization. Some need for this role remains—you wouldn’t want every manager putting his own spin on a sexual harassment policy, for example. Nor can every manager interpret and implement the employee handbook as she chooses. Payroll and benefits need administration, even if they are now electronically handled. The administrative functions of the Human Resources department continue to need management and implementation. These tasks are not going away anytime soon.

In this role, employees regarded Human Resources as the enemy and going to Human Resources was the kiss of death for your ongoing relationship with your own manager. Employees believed and were often correct, that the Human Resources function was in place solely to serve the needs of management. Thus, employee complaints often fell on deaf ears in a Human Resources department that existed to serve managers' needs.

They criticize everything from their education to their professionalism to their support for employees. More importantly, they accuse Human Resources professionals of misleading employees, failing to keep employee information confidential, and exhibiting poor practices in areas such as investigations, benefits options, and hiring employees.

In some cases, Human Resources is held in such disrespect that you may want to understand why your employees hate Human Resources. Part of it is, of course, that employees don't always understand what the Human Resources department does.


If the Human Resources function in your organization is not transforming itself to align with forward-thinking practices, executive leadership must ask Human Resources leaders some tough questions. Today’s organizations cannot afford to have a Human Resources department that fails to contribute to lead modern thinking and contribute to enhancing company profitability.

In this environment, much of the Human Resources role is transforming. The role of the Human Resources manager, director, or executive must parallel the needs of his or her changing organization. Successful organizations are becoming more adaptive, resilient, quick to change direction and customer-centered.

The Human Resources New Roles

Within this environment, the Human Resources professional, who is considered necessary by managers and executives, is a strategic partner, an employee sponsor or advocate and a change mentor. These roles were recommended and discussed in Human Resource Champions, by Dr. Dave Ulrich, one of the best thinkers and writers in the Human Resources field today, and a professor at the University of Michigan.

The Human Resources professionals who understand these roles are leading their organizations in areas such as organization development, strategic utilization of employees to serve business goals, and talent management and development. Let’s take a look at each of these roles and their impact on Human Resources functions and practices.

Strategic Partner

In today’s organizations, to guarantee their viability and ability to contribute, Human Resources managers need to think of themselves as strategic partners. In this role, the Human Resources person contributes to the development of and the accomplishment of the organization-wide business plan and objectives. Human Resources business objectives are established to support the attainment of the overall strategic business plan and objectives. The tactical Human Resources representative is deeply knowledgeable about the design of work systems in which people succeed and contribute.

This strategic partnership impacts Human Resources services such as the design of work positions; hiring; reward, recognition and strategic pay; performance development and appraisal systems; career and succession planning; and employee development. When Human Resources professionals are aligned with the business, the personnel management component of the organization is thought about as a strategic contributor to business success. To become successful business partners, the Human Resources staff members have to think like business people, know finance and accounting and be accountable and responsible for cost reductions and the measurement of all Human Resources programs and processes. It's not enough to ask for a seat at the executive table; Human Resources people will have to prove that they have the business savvy necessary to sit there.

Employee Advocate

As an employee sponsor or advocate, the Human Resources manager plays an integral role in organizational success via his knowledge about and advocacy of people. This advocacy includes expertise in how to create a work environment in which people will choose to be motivated, contributing, and happy.

Fostering effective methods of goal setting, communication, and empowerment. It is Human Resources responsibility to help build employee ownership of the organization. The Human Resources professional helps establish the organizational culture and climate in which people have the competency, concern, and commitment to serve customers well.

In this role, the manager provides overall talent management strategies, employee development opportunities, employee assistance programs, gain sharing and profit-sharing strategies, organization development interventions, due process approaches employee complaints and problem-solving, and regularly scheduled communication opportunities.

Change Champion

The constant evaluation of the effectiveness of the organization results in the need for the professional to frequently champion change. Both knowledge about and the ability to execute successful change strategies make the professional exceptionally valued. Knowing how to link change to the strategic needs of the organization will minimize employee dissatisfaction and resistance to change. Organization development, the overarching discipline for change management strategies, gives the professional additional challenges. Consciously helping to create the right organizational culture, monitoring employee satisfaction, and measuring the results of organization initiatives fall here as well as in the role of employee advocacy.

The professional contributes to the organization by constantly assessing the effectiveness of the function. She/he also sponsors change in other departments and in work practices. To promote the overall success of her organization, she champions the identification of the organizational mission, vision, values, goals and action plans. Finally, she helps determine the measures that will tell her organization how well it is succeeding in all of this.

This Article and its content is copyright of Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC 


© 2019.

All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

What the NLRB Can Teach You About Documenting Employee Misconduct


By Richard Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC

Innocent mistakes are an unfortunate reality in our fast-paced, technology-driven society. But an employer does not have to tolerate an employee doubling down on his mistake by deceiving his employer and actively impeding an investigation into that mistake. That’s the main lesson from a recent Alabama federal district court opinion in which the judge held that the employer, which happened to be the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), was within its rights to terminate its employee Gregory Powell, an NLRB field attorney with over 16 years of experience.

So, what happened? In the course of an investigation into the alleged unfair labor practices of a packaged meat manufacturer, Powell inadvertently emailed confidential witness affidavits to the attorney for the company he was investigating. Whoops! Talk about having a rough day.

While significant, this mistake alone may not have been enough to warrant Powell’s termination. What Powell did next likely sealed his fate with the NLRB, however. Instead of owning up to it, Powell compounded the issue by failing to report his mistake after he became aware of it; by refusing his supervisor’s request to document the incident; and by attempting to mislead the person tasked with investigating what had happened. Based on the combination of these factors, the NLRB determined that any discipline short of termination would be inadequate, and Powell lost his job.

At this point, you may think it’s obvious that an employer should have a right to terminate an employee who fails to cooperate in—and in fact, actively impedes—an investigation into his or her misconduct. But, as we’ve previously noted on this blog, even minor inaccuracies or inconsistencies in an employer’s otherwise reasonable explanation of why it terminated an employee can have disastrous results in court, and it is, therefore, critical to properly document and articulate the termination decision to avoid legal disaster when the time comes to justify the action taken. In this instance, the NLRB avoided these common employer pitfalls by effectively documenting and articulating its reasons for the termination, which supported the court’s ruling in the NLRB’s favor.

Consistency was another important aspect of the NLRB’s defense, as the recent court decision was actually its second legal victory over Powell. Prior to reaching federal court, Powell’s termination was reviewed by the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency that oversees the federal merit system and the personnel practices of federal employers like the NLRB. Both the district court and the MSPB noted that the NLRB’s evidence supporting Powell’s termination and the NLRB’s ability to support all four reasons it articulated for the termination decision were sufficient to overcome Powell’s arguments in opposition, mainly that the NLRB had “no credible evidence” to support his termination and had instead discriminated and retaliated against him for previously filing a complaint with the EEOC.

For employers, this result offers two important takeaways. The first is to take comfort in the fact that an employee’s deceptive and insubordinate behavior can be met with discipline, up to and including termination. The second is to realize that in order to reach this result and repeat the legal success of employers like the NLRB, you should have a system in place to properly document the reasons for disciplinary action so that if those actions are later questioned, you can articulate through the documentation a consistent reason for termination.

© 2019.

All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

Administrative Aptitude or Am I Smart Enough!

By Richard Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd, and Associates, LLC

Although the selection and training of good administrators are widely recognized as one of American industry’s most pressing problems, there is surprisingly little agreement among executives or educators on what makes a good administrator. The executive development programs of some of the nation’s leading corporations and colleges reflect a tremendous variation in objectives.

At the root of this difference is the industry’s search for the traits or attributes which will objectively identify the “ideal executive” who is equipped to cope effectively with any problem in any organization. As one observer of U.S. industry recently noted:

“The assumption that there is an executive type is widely accepted, either openly or implicitly. Yet any executive presumably knows that a company needs all kinds of managers for different levels of jobs. The qualities most needed by a shop superintendent are likely to be quite opposed to those needed by a coordinating vice president of manufacturing. The literature of executive development is loaded with efforts to define the qualities needed by executives, and by themselves, these sound quite rational. Few, for instance, would dispute the fact that a top manager needs good judgment, the ability to make decisions, the ability to win respect of others, and all the other well-worn phrases any management man could mention. But one has only to look at the successful managers in any company to see how enormously their particular qualities vary from any ideal list of executive virtues.”1

Yet this quest for the executive stereotype has become so intense that many companies, in concentrating on certain specific traits or qualities, stand in danger of losing sight of their real concern: what a person can accomplish.

It is the purpose of this “White Paper” is to suggest what may be a more useful approach to the selection and development of administrators. This approach is based not on what good executives are (their innate traits and characteristics), but rather on what they do (the kinds of skills which they exhibit in carrying out their jobs effectively). As used here, a skill implies an ability that can be developed, not necessarily inborn, and which is manifested in performance, not merely in potential. So the principal criterion of skillfulness must be effective action under varying conditions.

This approach suggests that effective administration rests on three basic developable skills that obviate the need for identifying specific traits and which may provide a useful way of looking at and understanding the administrative process. This approach is the outgrowth of firsthand observation of executives at work coupled with study of current field research in administration.

In the sections which follow, an attempt will be made to define and demonstrate what these three skills are; to suggest that the relative importance of the three skills varies with the level of administrative responsibility; to present some of the implications of this variation for selection, training, and promotion of executives; and to propose ways of developing these skills.

Three-Skill Approach

It is assumed here that an administrator is one who (a) directs the activities of other persons and (b) undertakes the responsibility for achieving certain objectives through these efforts. Within this definition, successful administration appears to rest on three basic skills, which we will call technical, human, and conceptual. It would be unrealistic to assert that these skills are not interrelated, yet there may be real merit in examining each one separately, and in developing them independently.

Technical skill

As used here, technical skill implies an understanding of, and proficiency in, a specific kind of activity, particularly one involving methods, processes, procedures, or techniques. It is relatively easy for us to visualize the technical skill of the surgeon, the musician, the accountant, or the engineer when each is performing his own special function. Technical skill involves specialized knowledge, the analytical ability within that specialty, and facility in the use of the tools and techniques of the specific discipline.

Of the three skills described in this article, technical skill is perhaps the most familiar because it is the most concrete, and because, in our age of specialization, it is the skill required of the greatest number of people. Most of our vocational and on-the-job training programs are largely concerned with developing this specialized technical skill.

Human skill

As used here, human skill is the executive’s ability to work effectively as a group member and to build cooperative effort within the team he leads. As technical skill is primarily concerned with working with “things” (processes or physical objects), so human skill is primarily concerned with working with people. This skill is demonstrated in the way the individual perceives (and recognizes the perceptions of) his superiors, equals, and subordinates, and in the way, he behaves subsequently.

The person with highly developed human skill is aware of his own attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs about other individuals and groups; he is able to see the usefulness and limitations of

these feelings. By accepting the existence of viewpoints, perceptions, and beliefs which are different from his own, he is skilled in understanding what others really mean by their words and behavior. He is equally skillful in communicating with others, in their own contexts, what he means by his behavior.

Such a person works to create an atmosphere of approval and security in which subordinates feel free to express themselves without fear of censure or ridicule, by encouraging them to participate in the planning and carrying out of those things which directly affect them. He is sufficiently sensitive to the needs and motivations of others in his organization so that he can judge the possible reactions to, and outcomes of, various courses of action he may undertake. Having this sensitivity, he is able and willing to act in a way that takes these perceptions by others into account.

The real skill in working with others must become a natural, continuous activity since it involves sensitivity not only at times of decision making but also in the day-by-day behavior of the individual. Human skill cannot be a “sometime thing.” Techniques cannot be randomly applied, nor can personality traits be put on or removed like an overcoat. Because everything which an executive says and does (or leaves unsaid or undone) has an effect on his associates, his true self will, in time, show through. Thus, to be effective, this skill must be naturally developed and unconsciously, as well as consistently, demonstrated in the individual’s every action. It must become an integral part of his whole being.

Because human skill is so vital a part of everything the administrator does, examples of inadequate human skill are easier to describe than are highly skillful performances. Perhaps consideration of an actual situation would serve to clarify what is involved:

When a new conveyor unit was installed in a shoe factory where workers had previously been free to determine their own work rate, the production manager asked the industrial engineer who had designed the conveyor to serve as foreman, even though a qualified foreman was available. The engineer, who reported directly to the production manager, objected, but under pressure, he agreed to take the job “until a suitable foreman could be found,” even though this was a job of lower status than his present one. Then this conversation took place:

Production Manager: “I’ve had a lot of experience with conveyors. I want you to keep this conveyor going at all times except for rest periods, and I want it going at top speed. Get these people thinking in terms of 2 pairs of shoes a minute, 70 dozen pairs a day, 350 dozen pairs a week. They are all experienced operators on their individual jobs, and it’s just a matter of getting them to do their jobs in a little different way. I want you to make that base rate of 250 dozen pairs a week work!” [Base rate was established at slightly under 75% of the maximum capacity. This base rate was 50% higher than under the old system.]

Engineer: “If I’m going to be foreman of the conveyor unit, I want to do things my way. I’ve worked on conveyors, and I don’t agree with you on first getting people used to a conveyor going at top speed.

These people have never seen a conveyor. You’ll scare them. I’d like to run the conveyor at onethird speed for a couple of weeks and then gradually increase the speed.

“I think we should discuss setting the base rate [production quota before incentive bonus] on a daily basis instead of a weekly basis. [Workers had previously been paid on a daily straight piecework basis.]

“I’d also suggest setting a daily base rate at 45 or even 40 dozen pairs. You have to set a base rate low enough for them to make. Once they know they can make the base rate, they will go after the bonus.”

Production Manager: “You do it your way on the speed, but remember it’s the results that count. On the base rate, I’m not discussing it with you; I’m telling you to make the 250 dozen pair a week work. I don’t want a daily base rate.”2

Here is a situation in which the production manager was so preoccupied with getting the physical output that he did not pay attention to the people through whom that output had to be achieved. Notice, first, that he made the engineer who designed the unit serve as foreman, apparently hoping to force the engineer to justify his design by producing the maximum output. However, the production manager was oblivious to (a) the way the engineer perceived this appointment, as a demotion, and (b) the need for the engineer to be able to control the variables if he was to be held responsible for maximum output. Instead, the production manager imposed a production standard and refused to make any changes in the work situation.

Moreover, although this was a radically new situation for the operators, the production manager expected them to produce immediately at well above their previous output—even though the operators had an unfamiliar production system to cope with, the operators had never worked together as a team before, the operators and their new foreman had never worked together before, and the foreman was not in agreement with the production goals or standards. By ignoring all these human factors, the production manager not only placed the engineer in an extremely difficult operating situation but also, by refusing to allow the engineer to “run his own show,” discouraged the very assumption of responsibility he had hoped for in making the appointment.

Under these circumstances, it is easy to understand how the relationship between these two men rapidly deteriorated, and how production, after two months’ operation, was at only 125 dozen pairs per week (just 75% of what the output had been under the old system).

Conceptual skill

As used here, conceptual skill involves the ability to see the enterprise as a whole; it includes recognizing how the various functions of the organization depend on one another, and how changes in any one part affect all the others; and it extends to visualizing the relationship of the individual business to the industry, the community, and the political, social, and economic forces of the nation as a whole. Recognizing these relationships and perceiving the significant elements in any situation, the administrator should then be able to act in a way that advances the over-all welfare of the total organization.

Hence, the success of any decision depends on the conceptual skill of the people who make the decision and those who put it into action. When, for example, an important change in marketing policy is made, it is critical that the effects on production, control, finance, research, and the people involved be considered. And it remains critical right down to the last executive who must implement the new policy. If each executive recognizes the over-all relationships and significance of the change, he is almost certain to be more effective in administering it. Consequently, the chances of succeeding are greatly increased.

Not only does the effective coordination of the various parts of the business depend on the conceptual skill of the administrators involved, but so also does the whole future direction and tone of the organization. The attitudes of a top executive color the whole character of the organization’s response and determine the “corporate personality” which distinguishes one company’s ways of doing business from another’s. These attitudes are a reflection of the administrator’s conceptual skill (referred to by some as his “creative ability”—the way he perceives and responds to the direction in which the business should grow, company objectives and policies, and stockholders’ and employees’ interests.

Conceptual skill, as defined above, is what Chester I. Barnard, former president of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, is implying when he says: “…the essential aspect of the [executive] process is the sensing of the organization as a whole and of the total situation relevant to it.”3 Examples of inadequate conceptual skills are all around us. Here is one instance:

In a large manufacturing company that had a long tradition of job-shop type operations, primary responsibility for production control had been left to the foremen and other lowerlevel supervisors. “Village” type operations with small working groups and informal organizations were the rule. A heavy influx of orders following World War II tripled the normal

production requirements and severely taxed the whole manufacturing organization. At this point, a new production manager was brought in from outside the company, and he established a wide range of controls and formalized the entire operating structure.

As long as the booming demand lasted, the employees made every effort to conform to the new procedures and environment. But when demand subsided to prewar levels, serious labor relations problems developed, friction was high among department heads, and the company found itself saddled with a heavy indirect labor cost. Management sought to reinstate its old procedures; it fired the production manager and attempted to give greater authority to the foremen once again. However, during the four years of formalized control, the foremen had grown away from their old practices, many had left the company, and adequate replacements had not been developed. Without strong foreman leadership, the traditional job-shop operations proved costly and inefficient.

In this instance, when the new production controls and formalized organizations were introduced, management did not foresee the consequences of this action in the event of a future contraction of business. Later, when conditions changed and it was necessary to pare down operations, management was again unable to recognize the implications of its action and reverted to the old procedures, which, under the circumstances, were no longer appropriate. This compounded conceptual inadequacy left the company at a serious competitive disadvantage.

Because a company’s overall success is dependent on its executives’ conceptual skill in establishing and carrying out policy decisions, this skill is the unifying, coordinating ingredient of the administrative process, and of undeniable over-all importance.

Relative Importance

We may notice that, in a very real sense, conceptual skill embodies consideration of both the technical and human aspects of the organization. Yet the concept of skill, as an ability to translate knowledge into action, should enable one to distinguish between the three skills of performing the technical activities (technical skill), understanding and motivating individuals and groups (human skill), and coordinating and integrating all the activities and interests of the organization toward a common objective (conceptual skill).

This separation of effective administration into three basic skills is useful primarily for purposes of analysis. In practice, these skills are so closely interrelated that it is difficult to determine where one ends and another begins. However, just because the skills are interrelated does not imply that we cannot get some value from looking at them separately, or by varying their emphasis. In playing golf the action of the hands, wrists, hips, shoulders, arms, and head are all interrelated; yet in improving one’s swing it is often valuable to work on one of these elements

separately. Also, under different playing conditions, the relative importance of these elements varies. Similarly, although all three are of importance at every level of administration, the technical, human, and conceptual skills of the administrator vary in relative importance at different levels of responsibility.

At lower levels

Technical skill is responsible for many of the great advances of modern industry. It is indispensable to efficient operation. Yet it has the greatest importance at the lower levels of administration. As the administrator moves further and further from the actual physical operation, this need for technical skill becomes less important, provided he has skilled subordinates and can help them solve their own problems. At the top, technical skill may be almost nonexistent, and the executive may still be able to perform effectively if his human and conceptual skills are highly developed. For example:

In one large capital-goods producing company, the controller was called on to replace the manufacturing vice president, who had been stricken suddenly with a severe illness. The controller had no previous production experience, but he had been with the company for more than 20 years and knew many of the key production personnel intimately. By setting up an advisory staff, and by delegating an unusual amount of authority to his department heads, he was able to devote himself to the coordination of the various functions. By so doing, he produced a highly efficient team. The results were lower costs, greater productivity, and higher morale than the production division had ever before experienced. Management had gambled that this man’s ability to work with people was more important than his lack of a technical production background, and the gamble paid off.

Other examples are evident all around us. We are all familiar with those “professional managers” who are becoming the prototypes of our modern executive world. These men shift with great ease, and with no apparent loss in effectiveness, from one industry to another. Their human and conceptual skills seem to make up for their unfamiliarity with the new job’s technical aspects.

At every level

Human skills, the ability to work with others, are essential to effective administration at every level. One recent research study has shown that human skill is of paramount importance at the foreman level, pointing out that the chief function of the foreman as an administrator is to attain collaboration of people in the workgroup.4 Another study reinforces this finding and extends it to the middle-management group, adding that the administrator should be primarily concerned with facilitating communication in the organization.5 And still another study, concerned primarily with top management, underscores the need for self-awareness and

sensitivity to human relationships by executives at that level.6 These findings would tend to indicate that human skill is of great importance at every level, but notice the difference in emphasis.

The human skill seems to be most important at lower levels, where the number of direct contacts between administrators and subordinates is greatest. As we go higher and higher in the administrative echelons, the number and frequency of these personal contacts decrease, and the need for human skill becomes proportionately, although probably not absolutely, less. At the same time, conceptual skill becomes increasingly more important with the need for policy decisions and broad-scale action. The human skill of dealing with individuals then becomes subordinate to the conceptual skill of integrating group interests and activities into a whole.

In fact, a recent research study by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University has given us the example of an extremely effective plant manager who, although possessing little human skill as defined here, was nonetheless very successful:

This manager, the head of a largely autonomous division, made his supervisors, through the effects of his strong personality and the “pressure” he applied, highly dependent on him for most of their “rewards, penalties, authority, perpetuation, communication, and identification.”

As a result, the supervisors spent much of their time competing with one another for the manager’s favor. They told him only the things they thought he wanted to hear and spent much time trying to find out his desires. They depended on him to set their objectives and to show them how to reach them. Because the manager was inconsistent and unpredictable in his behavior, the supervisors were insecure and continually engaged in interdepartmental squabbles which they tried to keep hidden from the manager.

Clearly, human skill as defined here was lacking. Yet, by the evaluation of his superiors and by his results in increasing efficiency and raising profits and morale, this manager was exceedingly effective. Professor Argyris suggests that employees in modern industrial organizations tend to have a “built-in” sense of dependence on superiors which capable and alert men can turn to advantage.7

In the context of the three-skill approach, it seems that this manager was able to capitalize on this dependence because he recognized the interrelationships of all the activities under his control, identified himself with the organization, and sublimated the individual interests of his subordinates to his (the organization’s) interest, set his goals realistically, and showed his subordinates how to reach these goals. This would seem to be an excellent example of a situation in which strong conceptual skills more than compensated for a lack of human skills.

At the top level

Conceptual skill, as indicated in the preceding sections, becomes increasingly critical in more responsible executive positions where its effects are maximized and most easily observed. In fact, recent research findings lead to the conclusion that at the top level of administration this conceptual skill becomes the most important ability of all. As Herman W. Steinkraus, president of Bridgeport Brass Company said:

“One of the most important lessons which I learned on this job [the presidency] is the importance of coordinating the various departments into an effective team, and, secondly, to recognize the shifting emphasis from time to time of the relative importance of various departments to the business.”8

It would appear, then, that at lower levels of administrative responsibility, the principal need is for technical and human skills. At higher levels, the technical skill becomes relatively less important while the need for conceptual skill increases rapidly. At the top level of an organization, conceptual skill becomes the most important skill of all for successful administration. A chief executive may lack technical or human skills and still be effective if he has subordinates who have strong abilities in these directions. But if his conceptual skill is weak, the success of the whole organization may be jeopardized.

Implications for Action

This three-skill approach implies that significant benefits may result from redefining the objectives of executive development programs, from reconsidering the placement of executives in organizations, and from revising procedures for testing and selecting prospective executives.

Executive development

Many executive development programs may be failing to achieve satisfactory results because of their inability to foster the growth of these administrative skills. Programs that concentrate on the mere imparting of information or the cultivation of a specific trait would seem to be largely unproductive in enhancing the administrative skills of candidates.

A strictly informative program was described to me recently by an officer and director of a large corporation who had been responsible for the executive-development activities of his company, as follows:

“What we try to do is to get our promising young men together with some of our senior executives in regular meetings each month. Then we give the young fellows a chance to ask questions to let them find out about the company’s history and how and why we’ve done things in the past.”

It was not surprising that neither the senior executives nor the young men felt this program was improving their administrative abilities.

The futility of pursuing specific traits becomes apparent when we consider the responses of an administrator in a number of different situations. In coping with these varied conditions, he may appear to demonstrate one trait in one instance—e.g., dominance when dealing with subordinates—and the directly opposite trait under another set of circumstances—e.g., submissiveness when dealing with superiors. Yet in each instance, he may be acting appropriately to achieve the best results. Which, then, can we identify as a desirable characteristic? Here is a further example of this dilemma:

A Pacific Coast sales manager had a reputation for decisiveness and positive action. Yet when he was required to name an assistant to understudy his job from among several well-qualified subordinates, he deliberately avoided making a decision. His associates were quick to observe what appeared to be obvious indecisiveness.

But after several months had passed, it became clear that the sales manager had very unobtrusively been giving the various salesmen opportunities to demonstrate their attitudes and feelings. As a result, he was able to identify strong sentiments for one man whose subsequent promotion was enthusiastically accepted by the entire group.

In this instance, the sales manager’s skillful performance was improperly interpreted as “indecisiveness.” Their concern with irrelevant traits led his associates to overlook the adequacy of his performance. Would it not have been more appropriate to conclude that his human skill in working with others enabled him to adapt effectively to the requirements of a new situation?

Cases such as these would indicate that it is more useful to judge an administrator on the results of his performance than on his apparent traits. Skills are easier to identify than are traits and are less likely to be misinterpreted. Furthermore, skills offer a more directly applicable frame of reference for executive development, since any improvement in an administrator’s skills must necessarily result in more effective performance.

Still another danger in many existing executive development programs lies in the unqualified enthusiasm with which some companies and colleges have embraced courses in “human relations.” There would seem to be two inherent pitfalls here: (1) Human relations courses might only be imparting information or specific techniques, rather than developing the individual’s human skill. (2) Even if individual development does take place, some companies, by placing all of their emphasis on human skill, maybe completely overlooking the training requirements for top positions. They may run the risk of producing men with highly developed human skill who lack the conceptual ability to be effective top-level administrators.

It would appear important, then, that the training of a candidate for an administrative position be directed at the development of those skills which are most needed at the level of responsibility for which he is being considered.

Executive placement

This three-skill concept suggests immediate possibilities for the creating of management teams of individuals with complementary skills. For example, one medium-size Midwestern distributing organization has as president a man of unusual conceptual ability but extremely limited human skill. However, he has two vice presidents with exceptional human skills. These three men make up an executive committee that has been outstandingly successful, the skills of each member making up for deficiencies of the others. Perhaps the plan of two-man complimentary conference leadership proposed by Robert F. Bales, in which the one leader maintains “task leadership” whiles the other, provides “social leadership,” might also be an example in point.9

Executive selection

In trying to predetermine a prospective candidate’s abilities on a job, much use is being made these days of various kinds of testing devices. Executives are being tested for everything from “decisiveness” to “conformity.” These tests, as a recent article in Fortune points out, have achieved some highly questionable results when applied to performance on the job.10 Would it not be much more productive to be concerned with the skills of doing rather than with a number of traits that do not guarantee performance?

This three-skill approach makes trait testing gun necessary and substitutes for its procedures which examine a man’s ability to cope with the actual problems and situations he will find on his job. These procedures, which indicate what a man can do in specific situations, are the same for selection and for measuring development. They will be described in the section on developing executive skills that follow.

This approach suggests that executives should not be chosen on the basis of their apparent possession of a number of behavioral characteristics or traits but on the basis of their possession of the requisite skills for the specific level of responsibility involved.

Developing Skills

For years many people have contended that leadership ability is inherent in certain chosen individuals. We talk of “born leaders,” “born executives,” “born salesmen.” It is undoubtedly true that certain people, naturally or innately, possess greater aptitude or ability in certain skills. But research in psychology and physiology would also indicate, first, that those having

strong aptitudes and abilities can improve their skill through practice and training, and, secondly, that even those lacking the natural ability can improve their performance and overall effectiveness.

The skill conception of administration suggests that we may hope to improve our administrative effectiveness and to develop better administrators for the future. This skill conception implies learning by doing. Different people learn in different ways, but skills are developed through practice and through relating learning to one’s own personal experience and background. If well done, training in these basic administrative skills should develop executive abilities more surely and more rapidly than through unorganized experience. What, then, are some of the ways in which this training can be conducted?

Technical skill

The development of technical skill has received great attention for many years by industry and educational institutions alike, and much progress has been made. A sound grounding in the principles, structures, and processes of the individual specialty, coupled with actual practice and experience during which the individual is watched and helped by a superior, appears to be most effective. In view of the vast amount of work which has been done in training people in technical skills, it would seem unnecessary in this article to suggest more.

Human skill

Human skill, however, has been much less understood, and only recently has systematic progress been made in developing it. Many different approaches to the development of human skills are being pursued by various universities and professional men today. These are rooted in such disciplines as psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Some of these approaches find their application in “applied psychology,” “human engineering,” and a host of other manifestations requiring technical specialists to help the businessman with his human problems. As a practical matter, however, the executive must develop his own human skill, rather than lean on the advice of others. To be effective, he must develop his own personal point of view toward human activity, so that he will (a) recognize the feelings and sentiments which he brings to a situation; (b) have an attitude about his own experiences which will enable him to re-evaluate and learn from them; (c) develop ability in understanding what others by their actions and words (explicit or implicit) are trying to communicate to him; and (d) develop ability in successfully communicating his ideas and attitudes to others.11

This human skill can be developed by some individuals without formalized training. Others can be individually aided by their immediate superiors as an integral part of the “coaching” process

to be described later. This aid depends on effectiveness, obviously, on the extent to which the superior possesses the human skill.

For larger groups, the use of case problems coupled with impromptu role-playing can be very effective. This training can be established on a formal or informal basis, but it requires a skilled instructor and organized sequence of activities.12 It affords as good an approximation to reality as can be provided on a continuing classroom basis and offers an opportunity for critical reflection not often found in actual practice. An important part of the procedure is the selfexamination of the trainee’s own concepts and values, which may enable him to develop more useful attitudes about himself and about others. With the change in attitude, hopefully, there may also come some active skills in dealing with human problems.

The human skill has also been tested in the classroom, within reasonable limits, by a series of analyses of detailed accounts of actual situations involving administrative action, together with a number of role-playing opportunities in which the individual is required to carry out the details of the action he has proposed. In this way, an individual understands the total situation and his own personal ability to do something about it can be evaluated.

On the job, there should be frequent opportunities for a superior to observe an individual’s ability to work effectively with others. These may appear to be highly subjective evaluations and to depend on the validity of the human skill of the rater. But does not every promotion, in the last analysis, depend on someone’s subjective judgment? And should this subjectivity be berated, or should we make a greater effort to develop people within our organizations with the human skill to make such judgments effectively?

Conceptual skill

Conceptual skill, like human skill, has not been very widely understood. A number of methods have been tried to aid in developing this ability, with varying success. Some of the best results have always been achieved through the “coaching” of subordinates by superiors.13 This is no new idea. It implies that one of the key responsibilities of the executive is to help his subordinates to develop their administrative potentials. One way a superior can help “coach” his subordinate is by assigning a particular responsibility, and then responding with searching questions or opinions, rather than giving answers, whenever the subordinate seeks help. When Benjamin F. Fairless, now chairman of the board of the United States Steel Corporation, was president of the corporation, he described his coaching activities:

“When one of my vice presidents or the head of one of our operating companies comes to me for instructions, I generally counter by asking him questions. First thing I know, he has told me how to solve the problem himself.”14

Obviously, this is an ideal and wholly natural procedure for administrative training and applies to the development of technical and human skills, as well as to that of conceptual skill. However, its success must necessarily rest on the abilities and willingness of the superior to help the subordinate.

Another excellent way to develop conceptual skills is through trading jobs, that is, by moving promising young men through different functions of the business but at the same level of responsibility. This gives the man the chance literally to “be in the other fellow’s shoes.”

Other possibilities include special assignments, particularly the kind which involves interdepartmental problems; and management boards, such as the McCormick Multiple Management plan, in which junior executives serve as advisers to top management on policy matters.

For larger groups, the kind of case-problems course described above, only using cases involving broad management policy and interdepartmental coordination, may be useful. Courses of this kind, often called “General Management” or “Business Policy,” are becoming increasingly prevalent.

In the classroom, conceptual skill has also been evaluated with reasonable effectiveness by presenting a series of detailed descriptions of specific complex situations. In these, the individual being tested is asked to set forth a course of action that response to the underlying forces operating in each situation and which considers the implications of this action on the various functions and parts of the organization and its total environment.

On the job, the alert supervisor should find frequent opportunities to observe the extent to which the individual is able to relate himself and his job to the other functions and operations of the company.

Like human skills, conceptual skill, too, must become a natural part of the executive’s makeup. Different methods may be indicated for developing different people, by virtue of their backgrounds, attitudes, and experience. But in every case that method should be chosen which will enable the executive to develop his own personal skill in visualizing the enterprise as a whole and in coordinating and integrating its various parts.


The purpose of this “White Paper” has been to show that effective administration depends on three basic personal skills, which have been called technical, human, and conceptual. The administrator needs: (a) sufficient technical skill to accomplish the mechanics of the particular job for which he is responsible; (b) sufficient human skill in working with others to be an

effective group member and to be able to build cooperative effort within the team he leads; (c) sufficient conceptual skill to recognize the interrelationships of the various factors involved in his situation, which will lead him to take that action which is likely to achieve the maximum good for the total organization.

The relative importance of these three skills seems to vary with the level of administrative responsibility. At lower levels, the major need is for technical and human skills. At higher levels, the administrator’s effectiveness depends largely on human and conceptual skills. At the top, the conceptual skill becomes the most important of all for successful administration.

This three-skill approach emphasizes that good administrators are not necessarily born; they may be developed. It transcends the need to identify specific traits in an effort to provide a more useful way of looking at the administrative process. By helping to identify the skills most needed at various levels of responsibility, it may prove useful in the selection, training, and promotion of executives.

Read More

1. Perrin Stryker, “The Growing Pains of Executive Development,” Advanced Management, August 1954, p. 15.

2. From a mimeographed case in the files of the Harvard Business School; copyrighted by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

3. Functions of the Executive (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1948), p. 235.

4. A. Zaleznik, Foreman Training in a Growing Enterprise (Boston, Division of Research, Harvard Business School, 1951).

5. Harriet O. Ronken and Paul R. Lawrence, Administering Changes (Boston, Division of Research, Harvard Business School, 1952).

6. Edmund P. Learned, David H. Ulrich, and Donald R. Booz, Executive Action (Boston, Division of Research, Harvard Business School, 1950).

7. Executive Leadership (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1953); see also “Leadership Pattern in the Plant,” HBR January–February 1954, p. 63.

8. “What Should a President Do?” Dun’s Review, August 1951, p. 21.

9. “In Conference,” HBR March–April 1954, p. 44.

10. William H. Whyte, Jr., “The Fallacies of ‘Personality’ Testing,” Fortune, September 1954, p. 117.

11. For a further discussion of this point, see F. J. Roethlisberger, “Training Supervisors in Human Relations,” HBR September 1951, p. 47.

12. See, for example, A. Winn, “Training in Administration and Human Relations,” Personnel, September 1953, p. 139; see also, Kenneth R. Andrews, “Executive Training by the Case Method,” HBR September 1951, p. 58.

13. For more complete development of the concept of “coaching,” see Myles L. Mace, The Growth and Development of Executives (Boston, Division of Research, Harvard Business School, 1950).

14. “What Should a President Do?” Dun’s Review, July 1951, p. 14.

Copyright © 2018 by Richard Boyd

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Breaking Down Structural Workplace Oppression

By Richard Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd and Associates, LLC

I perform this activity on a daily basis! ...(addressing systems of structural workplace oppression.)

As a person of color this is a life skill is (pretty much) taught to most of us at birth. Subsequently, structural oppression is oppression which is built-in structures which facilitate how some organization, society or the like works. For example law is one of the structures facilitating how a given society works. So laws limiting voting rights only to men are structural oppression of women. Or for example even though laws would guarantee everyone the same rights, if the people upholding the law (courts, police) systemically make decisions and take actions which oppress some group of people, this can also be considered structural oppression, as police and courts are the ones facilitating how society works, they are manifestation of the structures.

What Are Good Steps to Take to Breaking Down structural workplace oppression? 

1. On-Boarding

I have strongly recommended having some sort of orientation process ready when people from marginalized backgrounds join your group, a process described as “onboarding.”

These mentorship programs are imperative to keep people with marginalized identities from feeling suffocated.

I remember my days at Northeastern University, where I and other Black men would have weekly suit-and-tie lunches, this was my support system.

Knowing which groups need an on-boarding process depends on your group’s demographics.

For instance, if you work in a Gay Rights non-profit and largely employ other gay men, then they might not have a need for this extra support. But the lesbian, POC, and trans colleagues may feel excluded from company culture and could use this extra support. 

2. Give Experience as Much Weight as a Degree

The trajectory of going to school → to get a degree → to get a job has been ingrained in our society for decades now. But for many marginalized people (Black and Brown folks, especially), time in the Ivory Tower is perilous, white-washing, and oppressive – which motivates many people to find education elsewhere, usually through direct experience.

Paying credence only to a person’s formal education effectively prevents opportunity and access to those who have denied white- and Eurocentric education systems in order to develop stronger roots in their own cultures and communities.

Focusing on formal education while still claiming to be diverse means, in the words of Bernice Reagon: “You don’t really want Black folks; you are just looking for yourself with a little color to it.” Diversifying the experiences of the people in your group will help with group diversity overall. 

3. Diversity Within and Throughout

The final big aspect of having a wholesome and truly diverse culture in your group is to integrate diversity within and throughout. It should be in every conceivable aspect of your organization’s culture.

At every turn, there should be new systems set up that ensure that a person, of any background, has social and physical access to opportunities that the dominant groups either already have or simply don’t need.

Again, this is no easy task.

For many people, this is a life’s work, and it is usually focused on one group of people. This is why it’s important to have a committee or some other appointed group that can put all of their energy into focusing on and solving problems that come up around being progressive, inclusive, and diverse.

Finally, diversity is not an event. It is an entire process of undoing harmful systems and then redoing them in a way that can accommodate, respect, and appreciate the difference. There is no test, no certification that can make your business diverse in a way that’s meaningful to the employees who are most impacted and targeted by the racist, sexist, homophobic, ablest structures upheld in our surrounding society. It requires hard work by every person in a group or organization, especially by those who do not experience being an “other” on a regular basis. To that end I remain committed.

The Power of a Paradigm Shift/Being a Change Agent

By Richard E. Boyd, Principal, Richard Boyd, and Associates, LLC

"Paradigm shift or being a Change Agent" is one of those buzz phrases used by high-paid consultants and "facilitators," whatever those are, so it's usually a phrase that, for most of us, makes our eyes gloss over and our brains tune on out. So it's a bit surprising that I'm recommending such a thing -- but I'm going to call it by its more useful name -- a "change of reference." You're no doubt familiar with the old adage "to the man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail," and it's true. People tend to see the options that their experience, their learning, and their biases allow them to see.

Part of this is the way we are wired as human beings. If you buy a white Toyota Camry, pretty soon you're going to be surprised by how many other white Camrys have turned up on the road. Were they hiding before? Did all those other drivers suddenly go out and buy one, the same week that you bought yours? Of course not -- it's merely that you've started to notice them more.

This is all part of how our marvelous minds work -- they pay attention to those things that are deemed "important," and ignore the rest of the chaff -- even if it's really important -- because it's not been deemed worthy of our notice. If we didn't have this great ability, the world would start to close in on us -- and indeed, some people face this very problem.

It's somewhat like paying attention to your breathing. Most of us have been breathing quite well now for a number of years, without ever paying attention to every little breath; it's only when something is out of order -- shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, a bad cold -- that we start to pay attention to it.

So, we tend to see those things holding some interest -- or at least what our subconscious and conscious thoughts have identified as interesting. We ignore most other things unless there's some critical mass that makes it rise to the top. If you're like me, no matter how good a driver you are, driving has become rather automatic over the years -- if I'm on the freeway, I can drive hundreds of miles, lost in thought on other things, and not even realize it. Eventually, my mind cuts back in, wonders where it is, and realizes what's happened -- but if a deer ran out into the road, immediately, my conscious mind would be paying attention -- because it had to.

You see, we tune out some things, and tune in others. But back to our paradigm shift -- and our rule of "the whole world looks like a nail." Most of us blissfully go through life, ignoring vast quantities of important data. We drive to work in the morning, without paying attention to the clouds in the sky. We buy the same sort of food each day for lunch. We make the same sort of decisions. We live the same sort of life.That's not necessarily bad -- we all get into patterns in our lives -- but sometimes, it keeps us from understanding how to solve problems, because we refuse to change our frame of reference.

I am a photographer. All right, truth be told, nowadays, I'm a "sometimes" photographer -- I just don't have the time to spend out in the wilderness of Mosquito, CA anymore. Anyway, as a photographer, I've learned that changing the focal length of the lens, the cropping of a photograph, or the position I take the photograph from -- even by a few feet -- can make a whale of a difference in the way the photograph looks.

I'm changing my "frame of reference," and changing the way the image will appear. As a pass time photographer, I know that each time I shift my frame of reference, I'll have a new picture. By moving in a few feet, telephone lines disappear. By moving sideways a little, a tree will move out of the shot. By changing the time of day I photograph, or the type of weather I select, I get vastly different results from the same old subject.

It's that way in business, as well. We get into the habits of using the same old frames of references -- the same paradigms -- for our life. We call on the same people, we do the same things, we say the same words, we write the same proposals, over and over and over and over again. Sure, there are some jobs that don't change a lot -- but even for those jobs, the world is changing around you, every minute of every day.

Worst of all, when we get into the habit of seeing things from the same frame of reference, we tend to focus on those solutions that we have used in the past, and in doing so, we often limit our future. Let me give you a few questions to ask yourself that may prove useful to instituting a paradigm shift -- or a change in the frame of reference -- in your life or in your profession. 

1. Ask yourself this question: How best can I accomplish this result?

The downside to this question is your mind will likely fill in the blank with a predictable option. It takes a bit of determination to keep this from happening -- to keep your mind flexible enough to see other alternatives. People who do crossword or logic puzzles soon learn that the solutions usually lie in remaining flexible. When we choose only one method of accomplishing an item, we lock out all other methods, some of which may be better.

2. Ask yourself this question: Am I correctly determining the best result?

Sounds a bit strange, I know -- but often, we don't start with the right result in mind. Sometimes, people "cook the books," so to speak, to achieve a result that may be substandard. Sometimes, the best solution to your challenge is not the solution you start with.

A famous logic puzzle involves making a set of four equilateral triangles (that's triangles with equal sides, for those of us who flunked geometry) with 6 matchsticks. Most people can't see a way to do it -- but they're thinking 2 dimensionally. It's only when you realize a tetrahedron can be built that the problem is solvable -- and yet it requires a fundamental paradigm shift. You've been so used to doing puzzles on paper, or with matchsticks on a flat surface, that you only see those solutions, not the one that builds toward the sky. Oftentimes, we choose less-than-optimal results, because we eliminate many possible results, right out of the starting gate. 

3. Ask yourself this question: If I change one or more element, does it improve the result?

A friend of mine dreamed up an oatmeal cookie recipe. She took the normal "tollhouse cookie" recipe, eliminated part of the flour, replaced it with oats, added cinnamon, and made an oatmeal cookie recipe. All she did was alter one fundamental ingredient -- her result, a chocolate chip cinnamon oatmeal cookie - was a paradigm shift for her kids. Sometimes merely making a personnel change -- adding one person to a team, or switching one person for another -- can make a dramatic shift in the results of the team, for better or for worse. Metals, drugs, romance novel plots -- all of these have been made better over the years, merely by changing one central element so it is new. Don't believe me? How about Harry Potter? It's a reasonable coming of age story, with a twist -- the boy's a wizard. It's the twist that makes the difference, just as it's the cinnamon in the oatmeal cookie recipe. 

4. Ask yourself this question: If I look at this from the end, rather than the beginning, does it make a difference?

I've always believed that you have to look at things with the end in mind -- but sometimes, you have to start with the result, and back up to find out how you got to a particular spot. If you choose your optimal

result and then backtrack to find out the many ways you could have achieved that result, you're left with many paths to choose.

For example, if your end result is to become a millionaire, and you work backward, there are several options: you could earn it, you could save it, you could win it, you could steal it. No doubt, there are many more. As you expand each option, you find multiple other options. If you choose to save your way to a million dollars, pretty soon you're looking at interest rates, investment strategies, compounding rates, etc. If you choose to earn it, you start looking at the best methods to earn that sum of money -- many of them totally unrelated to what you're doing right now. 

5. Ask yourself this question: Does a slight shift make a big difference?

You remember my photography example above. By shifting your proposal just a bit, do you get a major difference in the result? Do you get a different point of view when you look at the problem from the customer's frame of reference? Of course you do -- your point of view is not necessarily the customer's point of view. The customer wants quality at the best price. You want business at the most profit. Is there a spot where your two desires merge? Is there a place where you gain a reasonable profit, and your customer gains a reasonable price?

6. Ask yourself this question: If I were an outsider brought into this company, how would I solve this problem?

Strange, but true -- we often don't see the other options until we choose a little bit of role-playing like this. How would an outsider solve this? Not knowing what you know, not learning the way you learn, how would somebody else do it? I've always been amazed over the years at how different people attack challenges. A few years ago, I hired a person to do a job that I had once performed as part of my job responsibilities. I'd done it for a number of years, and I taught her the way I had done it -- and then got out of her way.

Before long, she had changed the job to the way she found easiest -- and in doing so, had changed much of the way I had been used to. Now, when I occasionally have to look at her work, I have to figure out how she does it, and why. She looked at the job from a differing point of view -- and in many cases, her solutions have proved to be superior to mine. 

7. Our last question: What would happen if I turned this inside out, shortened this element, lengthened this one, or totally remodeled it?

This is the fundamental approach to determining a paradigm shift. We have to look at changing the nature of the problem, inventing new solutions. Before the electric light was invented, there was no need for one. Before refrigerators were invented, the iceman was king. When automobiles came around, many people dismissed them as jokes. When the transistor was invented, people didn't know what to do with it -- until Sony came along. Why would anyone need one of those things?

It's only when you take things apart, switch them around a bit, and put them back together, that you make true paradigm shifts.

When this happens you are actively defining the future -- not just repeating the past.