Strategic Business Process Management Consulting and Training Since 1993
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How Sure Do You Need to Be?

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve experienced with regard to facilitating successful projects is dealing with naysayers who will go to any extreme to discredit results. I have a tip for dealing with this, which I’ll introduce with a fictional story:

Suppose six television sets disappear from the loading dock at a local department store in the middle of the day. A white SUV is spotted leaving the area with a partial license plate of ABC. The police run a license check and find a Bob Johnson living nearby with an ABC 1234 license plate and a white SUV. They get a search warrant for his house and find six TV’s in his garage.

The case goes to the grand jury. The job of the grand jury is to determine whether there’s a reasonable enough probability that Bob committed the crime to send the case to a jury trial. There typically is no defense presented in this round, just the prosecutor laying out the facts. Only 75% of the grand jurors need to agree that Bob should be charged. Reasonable people would hear the above story and almost certainly send the case to trial.

Now the defense enters the picture. Before the case goes to trial, the defense tries to exclude that the TVs were found in Bob’s garage because the search warrant only specified the house. During trial the defense says Bob’s office and house are on opposite sides of the store, so of course his car was in the area. And they point out that one of the employees working the day shift at the department store has a criminal record. And they note that the TV’s in Bob’s garage have that employee’s fingerprints on them, but not Bob’s. The job of the defense is not to convince the trial jury that someone else committed the crime. Instead, the defense’s job is to try to make one juror out of 12 believe that it’s possible that Bob isn’t the one that committed the crime. The standard of proof here is much higher than at the grand jury.

When it comes to demonstrating the results of your teams, what standard of proof are you looking for? Grand jury, where reasonable people would look at the data and conclude there was a positive result? Or trial jury, where 100% of the people in your organization have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that your claims are 100% accurate and unchallengeable? If it’s the latter, you are in for rough sledding. Few things in life are perfect enough to be unchallengeable.

Don’t let naysayers distract from obvious positive results by harping on “what ifs” and outrageous assumptions. Always reinforce that you’re looking for a grand jury level of certainness, where reasonable people win out.

Ralph Smith

Related seminar: Using Data for Business Strategy and Critical Decisions.

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