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Tag: Strategic & Business Management


Evidence Based Decision Making: A Pillar of Optimal Performance

Decision making is at the heart of leadership, management, and performance. I write about mindful conflict and expectations management, and the decision making that underlies both. Last month the article on the use of the Evaporating Cloud technique addressed the power of collaborating to face conflict to identify goals, wants, and needs.


This article focuses on making decisions based on evidence and rational thinking as opposed to unfounded opinions and emotions. While feelings are important, they are often without a sound basis in reality. Acting upon them without investigating evidence and alternatives is foolish. Not considering the feelings is equally unwise.


“When somebody on staff asks what we should do to

address a problem, the first questions I now ask are

‘What does the research say? What is the evidence base?

What information can we gather to determine if it will

fit in different contexts?’ It’s become a way of life.”

– Jim Hmurovich, BA, MS Ed, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America



Here is a simple example to bring out the practical nature evidence based decision making:

In an apartment building an occupant, Ms. H, objected to the practice of leaving a building provided package cart in the elevator for the next elevator rider to return to the lobby. 

She felt that the “rude behavior of some made it impossible for others to use our very limited elevators.”

Taking a rational look at the issue, it seems that if the person who borrowed the cart took it down in the elevator there would be one less spot on the elevator for other riders.  Further investigation may uncover that Ms. H. doesn’t like to or isn’t able to get on an elevator with a cart. If that is the case, adding the cart’s borrower to the trip will do her no good.


Ms. H failed to consider the facts. Her emotions and biases drove her demand. She was reactive. Imagine if she was good at convincing others without providing any foundation in fact and logic, and the decision makers just threw up their hands and created a rule that “borrowers or designated alternatives must return the carts themselves.”

This is a simple example. But how often are projects hampered by reactive behavior? Instead step back to consider evidence and apply analytical thinking along with emotional and social intelligence.


The decision gets more serious if it was about whether to purchase a product or create one. Ms. H, now in her capacity as senior executive and project sponsor, insists that buying a product is the way to go. She was convinced that development was too risky and expensive. She had been burned when in an earlier project a decision to build vs. buy led to a project with costly overruns. She was sold by product vendors and external consultants on the idea that the products were easily customized to the unique needs of Ms. H’s organization. And that the organization would be better off changing procedures to accommodate the products.


An analytical review of research, the experiences of others, and a clear sense of the nature of the customization required would uncover the risks and expense of adapting to or customizing a product rather than creating one’s own to fit special needs.

The decision could go either way. The point is to combine analysis and intuition to best decisions. “Good” decisions are informed decisions that combine information (facts, feelings, interpretations and opinions, etc.) from multiple perspectives. Good decisions are more likely to successfully solve the problem at hand than decisions made based on limited information.


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Evidence Based Decision Making

Evidence Based Decision-Making (EBDM) leads to informed decisions. “Evidence Based Decision-Making is a process for making decisions about a program, practice, or policy that is grounded in the best available research evidence and informed by experiential evidence from the field and relevant contextual evidence.”[1] Not only does it result in optimal decisions, but EBDM also cultivates collaborative action and cuts through unnecessary conflict.


Evidence Based Decision Making (EBDM) is described as a 4-part process with 10 steps and 47 sub-steps. The model is shown in Figure 1:[2]

Figure 1: The EDBM


Don’t worry, we won’t go into the 10 steps and 47 sub-steps. Though, having a detailed model is useful for training and to promote collective understanding of required tasks, roles, and skills. See the referenced source for the full model.

But let’s be realistic, getting decision makers and stakeholders like Ms. H to buy into a super-analytical process with 47 steps is virtually impossible. Well maybe not impossible, but requiring a mindset transformation, and that takes time.


The successful decision maker understands the process and adapts it to the current situation. She avoids analysis paralysis and understands that collaboration among the decision makers is as important as the weighting and scoring of facts and feelings. Based on inquiry the rest of the process is customized to fit the personalities, cultural influences, need for speed, availability of evidence and the capacity of the decision makers.



EBDM means making decisions using four sources[3]

  • the best available scientific evidence – research studies, experiments, journal articles, etc.
  • organizational evidence – business data, including financial reports and performance, studies, project journals and history, organizational culture, etc.
  • experiential evidence – the collective experience of the decision-makers and outside experts
  • stakeholder evidence – stakeholder expectations, feelings, beliefs, biases, wants, needs, and values.

On the surface all four types of evidence seem objective, where “Objective evidence is evidence that is not subject to bias and is quantifiable and able to be independently confirmed and verified by using analytical or other tools. Simply put, objective evidence is based on facts and is the kind of evidence that can be independently examined, evaluated, and verified.”[4]


But go a little deeper and you find that there can be subjectivity in each. For example, there are often many ways to interpret scientific data. The same data can be used to justify any number of opinions, which when written up in a journal article can give the impression of being objective.

Subjective evidence is based on individual interpretations and opinions. It cannot be independently verified. When subjective evidence is valued and evaluated in concert with objective evidence and the multiple subjective experiences, it is often what leads to the most effective solutions. Evidence based decision making makes subjective evidence a valued part of the process.


Applying EBDM

EBDM is a process to uncover convincing evidence using objective analysis. Like all approaches to decision making, it is a quest for greater certainty about the outcome of a decision. Use it to go beyond both decision-by-the-numbers and decision-by-feelings. Objectivity and subjectivity are facts of life in any complex decision making, do not ignore either. To be objective a decision maker must acknowledge the presence of subjectivity and incorporate it into the decision making.

If you are fortunate enough to be making decisions optimally, resolving conflicts, setting expectations, experiencing great outcomes, just keep doing what you are doing. If there is room for improvement, bring EBDM into your work, whether it is you alone or the team. Raise it as a topic as you work to continuously improve performance guided by informed decisions.



Arguing to Learn and to Win

The recent INC. article, Stuck in a Heated Argument? Follow the ‘ATL Rule’ to Ensure Everyone Wins[1] set me to thinking about how best to approach the way we manage major conflicts and minor disagreements, how we argue.

In my book, Managing Conflict in Projects: Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results[2] the message is to approach managing differences with clarity, while accepting the reality that there may be emotions involved, not being driven by them. This is emotional intelligence, the ability to be aware of and manage emotions. It is a foundation for healthy relationships, and healthy relationships include the ability to manage disagreements, whether they are small arguments or major conflicts.

The word conflict needs definition. The general definition from Merriam-Webster is “an extended struggle : fight, battle. : a clashing or sharp disagreement (as between ideas, interests, or purposes) : mental struggle resulting from needs, drives, wishes, or demands that are in opposition or are not compatible. conflict.” From Cambridge dictionary, an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles: There was a lot of conflict between him and his father. It was an unpopular policy and caused a number of conflicts within the party. His outspoken views would frequently bring him into conflict with the president.”

Here, the term conflict covers any kind of disagreement or struggle that starts off with opposing views. Managing conflict seeks to resolve the conflict.

The conflicts that make the news are beyond the scope of this article, though the same basic principles apply. Here the focus is on the kinds of conflicts that come up in organizations, projects and processes. The principles are:

  1. Step back to see the big picture and how your emotions, beliefs, biases, and mental models affect your perspective.
  2. Seek to understand your mindset, goals, needs, and wants and what influences them
  3. Seek to understand the other parties’ goals, needs, and wants and what influences them
  4. Be mindful of your words, behavior, and feelings, and their impact
  5. Assess the degree to which you can trust and collaborate with the others
  6. Promote a win-win attitude in which the parties jointly resolve the conflict
  7. Recognize that there are some disagreements that cannot be settled with a win for both parties
  8. Compile facts and opinions and examine and use them in decision making to resolve the conflict.

Arguing to Learn and to Win

The INC. article points out that scientific study shows we should “enter debates looking to learn rather than win.” Since it is very difficult for many people to give up winning, I think the right mindset for working on a disagreement is looking to learn and looking to win.

That opens the question of what it means to win. Does it mean getting your way? Or does it mean coming to the optimal solution to the problem at hand? For example, two designers in conflict about which design should be used in a project can collaborate to identify the objectively best design or they can battle one another to get their design accepted.

Researchers identify two primary mindsets that set a stage for the way arguments are addressed: arguing-to-learn (ATL) and arguing-to-win (ATW). In the ATL approach the parties cooperate to get a better understanding of the situation. It implies open mindedness to discover the resolution through research, dialog, and analysis.

In the ATW approach the tendency to believe in a single truth and to cut off or ignore debate in which conflicting opinions and facts are raised. Instead of discovering a resolution the ATW mindset often begins with the resolution, takes it as truth and argues for it with a closed mind.

Understanding the different mindsets and the benefit of using an ATL, the challenge is to work towards making an ATL mindset part of your conflict management process.


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A Hybrid Approach

As with all complex social issues, there is no one right answer. Let’s not over-simplify and think that it’s either ATL or ATW. We can also argue to learn and win (ATLAW).

In projects meaningful arguments are about whether, why, how, who, and when things will be done. If the argument is not settled the project may be delayed or motivation and morale will be impacted. If the argument is not settled well, the outcome will be subpar.

Of course, there are other arguments about politics, religion, freedom vs. authoritarianism, the causes of global warming, etc. For these important issues, there may never be a resolution. But when it comes to deciding on a design to use, or a budget or schedule, there must be a winner.

We can take the position that the winner is not the person with the idea, it is the idea that wins. And if the best idea wins, then the people involved win, where winning means that their needs have been met. If the parties take an ATL approach they creatively discover a resolution that may blend elements of alternative solutions or pick one over another. The discovery results from the learning process. Then there is the perception of winning or losing



If everyone agrees as to what it means to win, and recognizes that learning improves the probability of winning, then the players will naturally take a collaborative approach facing the issue rather than facing one another.

But ego and closed mindedness get in the way. The emotional need to win, psychological tendencies to dominate and win, and not knowing of an alternative to win-lose confrontation make collaboration difficult, if not impossible. Getting past that barrier requires process awareness, self-reflection, coaching and training.

Look at your process.

  • Are the principles stated above realistic?
  • Do they naturally occur as part of a healthy flow that allows for differences and promotes win-win resolutions? If they do, be grateful and carry on.
  • If not, how can you subtly or overtly discuss the conflict management process to promote open-mindedness and rational thinking?
[1] Hobson, Nick, INC.
[2] Pitagorsky, George, PMI

Practical Perfectionism and Continuous Improvement

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” ― Stephen Hawking


“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Mark Twain


Practical perfectionists use the urge for perfection as fuel for achieving it, accepting that while things could be better, they may never be perfect.

Practical perfectionism is at the root of quality improvement. We set standards and try to meet them with the goal of optimal performance – performing as best we can. We recognize that optimal performance is perfection even though there may be flaws, errors, and omissions.



Sometimes things are perfect as they are:

  • People are happy, effective, accepting, flexible and resilient
  • Change and problems are well managed
  • Communication and relationships are healthy
  • Performance quality is high, and
  • There is a continuous improvement process that asks “How can we do better?”

In that ideal scenario the stakeholders are aware that everything is in motion, continuously changing. They know that expecting to sustain a static perfect state is a pipe dream – an unattainable hope. They know that perfection is in the process and not the outcome.  They strive for the perfect outcome even though they know it may not be attainable.


The word perfect is an adjective and verb. We perfect our process to make it perfect. According to Merriam-Webster the meaning of perfect is:

“Being entirely without fault or defect flawless. a perfect diamond. : satisfying all requirements : accurate. : corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept. a perfect gentleman.”



Perfectionism is a character trait that can be healthy, positive, and functional or unhealthy negative, and dysfunctional. It is a need to have oneself, others, or things in general to be perfect. There is an uncomfortable felt sense, a pressure from within, when things are not perfect. There is a belief that perfection is possible and necessary.

Perfectionists set standards that they use to judge their own behavior, and the behavior of others. They assume that others expect them to meet those self-set standards.

When perfectionism operates unconsciously it gets in the way of optimal performance. For example, it can manifest as procrastination because things are not perfectly ready. “I can’t get started until I am absolutely sure that I won’t be interrupted.” Some perfectionists procrastinate or avoid acting because they fear that their work will not be perfect.


Perfectionism may emerge as a negative self-image or image of others because they are not perfect.

For example, a project sponsor keeps putting off the funding of a project because the design team cannot find the perfect solution or the selection of a key product or system is held up because there are  no perfect options.

The expectation that a team’s or individual’s performance be perfect can motivate high performance or, if the expectations are impossible to meet, over-stress and demotivate.


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Striving and Concerns

Perfectionists strive to achieve personal standards that they set themselves and are concerned that they won’t measure up. The striving may be focused on both themselves and others.

They worry and fear that they will be punished or rejected if they fail to be perfect in the eyes of others – their boss, client, peers, etc. They tend to promote the impression of their own perfection and work to prevent others having a negative impression.

The striving and concerns, when they are unconsciously driven, waste energy and create stress, the enemies of optimal performance.



Non-perfectionists tend not to have pre-stated standards or expectations about themselves or others. Non-perfectionists are OK with whatever happens. While this leaves them with less stress and may even be a sign of enlightenment, it does not promote continuous performance improvement.

Acceptance is a positive trait, but it can also lead to stagnation and the degradation of performance. Healthy acceptance accepts things are as they are in the moment, that they will change, and that with effort they can be made better into the future.


Practical Perfectionists

Practical perfectionism involves setting rational performance standards and expectations and generating the motivation to achieve them. It is an example of how we can use a character trait to its best advantage.

It begins with the acknowledgement that perfectionism is at work. This is an aspect of self-awareness, the sense of what is happening internally and how it is influencing behavior.

With that awareness, perfectionism can be used as a powerful force in optimizing performance and promoting personal growth, emotional intelligence, and wellness. Perfectionism is accepted and managed.


Practical perfectionists have ambitious standards and bring rational thinking to bear. They assess why they think their standards and expectations are realistic. They look at the costs and benefits of improvement and decide whether to improve radically or incrementally, or to leave well enough alone, making the best of the situation.

Perfectionism is a positive trait if it is moderated by acceptance of things as they are, self-awareness, rational thinking, and realistic understanding of

  • what ‘perfect’ means,
  • whether and how it can be achieved,
  • how much it costs,
  • how long it takes to achieve it, and
  • whether achieving it is worth the time and effort.

Practical perfectionism drives continuous improvement and optimal performance.


Overcoming Obstacles to Perfect Performance

It is hard to imagine why anyone would not embrace a practical perfectionist mindset. But the reality is that there is resistance to self-awareness and rational thinking.

Overcoming obstacles to applying practical perfectionism to continuous improvement begins with self-awareness and understanding among team members and leadership at all levels..

When individuals realize that they are being overly stressed by their own perfectionism or are overly stressing others by expecting the impossible, they can act to change.


In projects the change comes about when perfectionist managers or clients realize that their expectations are irrational and counterproductive. Then the process of defining goals, acceptance standards, value, costs, risks, and benefits will lead to expectations that can be met.

Practical perfectionism combines emotional intelligence and analytical process thinking to promote a perfect process.


To Drive Project Excellence, Take Charge of Your L&D Efforts

In an ideal world, you should be able to draw a straight line from your organization’s Learning and Development (L&D) initiatives to business success. It follows then that, as increased business success depends on excellence in project delivery, more companies should focus on building project management training into their core L&D programs.


Some already do. Sixty-one percent of respondents to Project Management Institute (PMI)’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession® Report say their organizations provide some level of project management training. And more than two-thirds (69 percent) say their senior leadership values project management.

But the world is becoming even more “projectified.” Seventy-nine percent of executives in an Accenture study say that work in the future will be based more on specific projects than on roles. And for some companies, project management has become so central to how they operate that it is now considered a core competency.


For all these reasons, some companies are developing more holistic approaches to project management training where the employee experience is embedded into the core of the program.

One of the finest examples of this is the L&D program at CGI. Among the world’s largest independent IT and business consulting services firms, CGI began offering formalized project management training and certification in-house to drive business performance and enhance client relationships. It has now expanded its training efforts to all employees – not just people with ‘project’ in their title.


“Project success is paramount to our company,” says Melissa Reeder, Director of Consulting and Project Management Center of Excellence at CGI. “Engagements are integral to service delivery, so we emphasize providing high-quality project management training to our consultants.”

An important related goal, Melissa says, is to improve its employee career journey and to create a supportive career-building environment. The CGI initiative empowers their employees to take charge of their career development by providing an all-inclusive project management track tailored to each employee’s career stage and project experience.


CGI now views project management/leadership as a core skillset and an essential element in driving improved client delivery success. This skillset, the firm believes, will only grow in importance as work becomes more hybrid.

But there’s another factor behind the CGI training effort. Several of its US-based clients in the government and healthcare sectors require project leaders to be certified in project management – specifically to hold PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)®certification.


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As PMI’s Leader for North American Client Engagement, that’s how I became familiar with the CGI program. We began working with the firm to develop its project management training track in 2010.

“PMI best practice guidelines are recognized worldwide, and its certifications align with the many types of services CGI provides our clients,” Melissa says. “CGI’s project delivery frameworks are based on industry best practices, so it makes sense for our people to have the same standards of training and credibility that comes with PMI certification.”

To develop well-rounded project professionals, CGI offers its employees the following:


  • PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification: Recognized by CGI clients as the project management certification of choice, the PMP certification distinguishes project managers who have proven they have the skills to manage complex projects successfully. The PMP exam covers the latest business trends across three domains – people, process, and business environment – giving certification holders the tools to determine the best way of working and the ability to manage any project using predictive, agile, or hybrid methodologies.
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Certification: The PMI-ACP formally recognizes the practitioner’s knowledge of agile principles and skills with agile techniques. The PMI-ACP spans many approaches to agile such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP), and test-driven development (TDD).
  • PMI Membership: Through the PMI partnership, CGI members also have access to discounted PMI membership to help build a professional network. Becoming part of a professional practice community creates informal learning opportunities with peers, a ready-made professional support network, and space to share knowledge and expertise.


Since the start of the program, more than a thousand CGI members have successfully been PMP certified. The firm is now looking to expand its partnership by connecting its people in Australia and Canada with local PMI chapters.

“Membership in a professional organization is another way to enhance the employee experience at CGI,” Melissa says. “There are vast opportunities to connect and learn from each other, plus it’s a great chance for CGI employees to enrich the profession with their frontline experiences and knowledge. I’ve been an active member of my local PMI chapter for a few years. It’s a great way to meet new people who share a common passion and to give back by volunteering.”


CGI’s employee-centered approach to project management training shows that employee experience and client satisfaction go hand-in-hand. When you deliver quality project training across your organization, it will inevitably impact client delivery for the better.

“We are always looking at ways to enhance our project delivery and client relationships,” says Melissa. Leaders strive to exceed client expectations and the firm’s project management L&D training track is now an integral part of its client engagement strategy.


Delivering consistently high service standards leads to delivering strong projects and value for clients. By offering project-oriented training programs within an organization, your teams will be equipped with the tools and know-how to do just that.


Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

10 reasons I can think of that a company might try to avoid giving a raise/promotion:

  1. Budget constraints: The company may not have the financial resources to offer a raise.
  2. Performance issues: The employee’s performance may not meet the company’s standards.
  3. Market rates: The company may believe that the employee’s compensation is already in line with market rates.
  4. Company policy: The company may have strict policies about when raises can be given or how much they can be.
  5. Lack of value perceived: The company may not see the value in offering a raise to the employee.
  6. Poor communication: The company may not communicate clearly with employees about what it takes to earn a raise or how the process works.
  7. Fear of setting a precedent: The company may worry that giving a raise to one employee will set a precedent for others to ask for raises as well.
  8. Limited growth opportunities: The company may not have a clear path for career growth or upward mobility, making it harder to offer raises as an incentive.
  9. Profitability concerns: The company may be focused on maintaining profits and may be hesitant to allocate resources towards raises, even if employees deserve them.
  10. Internal politics: A jealous manager or supervisor may feel threatened by an employee’s potential and may try to block a promotion to avoid losing their own position.


Did you know that 75% of employees who leave their jobs cite lack of recognition as the reason? Or that a striking 82% of employees feel that they don’t get recognized for their work?! To be honest it doesn’t really surprise me… Effective leaders play a vital role in the success of any organization. They understand the importance of creating a positive work environment, fostering employee engagement, and promoting professional growth. By investing in their employees’ development, they show that they value their contributions and are committed to their continued success. Promotions and raises based on performance and capabilities are tangible ways for leaders to recognize and show their employees that they are valued.

The problem is many leaders think they are recognizing their employees through providing professional development opportunities and sending “thank you” emails. Professional development and recognition are not interchangeable. While training programs and skill development opportunities are important, promotions and raises are essential for employees to feel that their hard work and loyalty are recognized and appreciated. Of course, it is not the only thing that matters, but it seems to be underappreciated in many cases! If employees can see a clear path to advancement and recognize that their hard work and dedication will be rewarded, it can create a sense of purpose and commitment to the organization.


I once had a manager who told me that in my current position I was performing at the highest levels and that based on the projects I had taken on recently, it was justified to get a promotion. However, she went on to explain, she didn’t feel it was appropriate or reasonable to ask for a promotion within the first 1.5-2 years. While I respected her perspective, I also felt frustrated that my hard work and dedication weren’t recognized beyond verbal praise. When I asked for the promotion, she shouldn’t have stood on principle but instead she could’ve used it as an opportunity to build a loyal employee. If she had beat me to the punch, no doubt that would be even better.

Promotions and raises based on performance and capabilities are vital for employees to feel that their hard work and loyalty are recognized and appreciated. A promotion or raise is not just a financial reward; it is a visible sign that the company is investing in its employees and sees potential in their continued growth. This recognition motivates employees to work even harder and foster a culture of excellence and not to be understated, loyalty.


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The traditional mindset of basing promotions and raises on tenure is no longer valid in today’s fast-paced work environment. Employees today have access to a vast amount of information about comparable jobs and salaries. They can easily research and compare their current pay and benefits to what they could receive elsewhere. This comparison can either be a disadvantage or an advantage for an organization. If an employee sees that they could be making more money and receiving better benefits elsewhere, it may lead to disengagement, and eventually, the employee leaving the company. On the other hand, if an employee sees that they are being compensated fairly and could have worse benefits elsewhere, it can increase their engagement and loyalty to the organization.

Professional development and promotions go hand in hand. It’s crucial to provide employees with skill development opportunities, but it’s equally important to promote and encourage growth and hard work. Employees who excel in their current roles should be given the opportunity to advance their careers. Doing so fosters a sense of loyalty and commitment to the organization and ensures that employees remain engaged and invested in their work.

Despite the best intentions of many leaders, there can be barriers to implementing recognition and reward programs. Some leaders may lack the authority to make these decisions, while others may lack the resources to provide meaningful recognition and rewards. While some leaders may feel powerless in their positions to effect change, it’s important to fight for recognition and professional development opportunities for employees. Every effort counts and can contribute to a more positive and productive workplace culture.


How many of those 10 reasons a company might try to avoid giving a raise still seem reasonable?

In the end, we are all leaders in some way or another. We all have the power to influence those around us and create positive change. Whether we work alongside someone who deserves recognition, or we have the ability to make changes in our management philosophy, we should all strive to invest in the people around us. If you’ve felt a sense of agreement or even frustration while reading this, then you already have the permission to take action. Start small by advocating for a colleague or an employee’s promotion or raise, let’s see where it takes you…