SIMPLE, NOT SIMPLISTIC: Q x A = E
My good friend and mentor Steve Kerr has a great way to explain this classic management phenomenon, first articulated by Norman R. F. Maier. Steve maintains that business executives worry too much about the quality of their decisions, and too little about creating widespread acceptance for them. They make the mistake of assuming that if the quality of a decision or strategy is absolutely rock solid, people should have no problem buying into it. After all, nothing is more powerful than science, math, and logic. If the idea makes scientific and/or mathematical sense, and there is data to prove the accuracy and correctness of the idea, why would anyone have a problem? Wrong! Every human has a different brain, and what is obvious to one brain may not be so to another. Steve has a simple but powerful way to explain that leaders need to worry equally, if not more, about creating acceptance. For an idea or strategy to be fully effective, it requires both quality and acceptance. He illustrates this concept with a simple equation:
Q x A=E
Q stands for quality. A stands for acceptance, and E is for effectiveness. “The problem with most managers is they don’t understand that anything multiplied by zero is zero” he says, and goes on to add, “Another problem we often see is that managers tend to work harder toward improving quality, and don’t work enough on improving acceptance.” In a large organization, this can make the difference between success and failure.
Here is another simple fact about a multiplication equation: Increasing the smaller of the two variables yields a higher result than increasing the larger variable. Imagine Q = 7 and A = 3, giving you an overall effectiveness score of 21. According to Steve, most left-brained managers tend to continuously improve quality, and pay little attention to acceptance. So if you increase Q to 8 and keep A at 3, your overall effectiveness increases to 24. Another raise in Q to 9 while keeping the A constant, gives you an effectiveness jump to 27. However, if you do the reverse, i.e., keep Q constant at 7 and increase A to 4, you get an effectiveness of 28. Raise the A to 5 while still keeping Q constant at the original 7 and your effectiveness jumps to 35. At A = 6 while Q is still at 7, you get an amazing E = 42.
Q x A = E
7 x 3 = 21
8 x 3 = 24
9 x 3 = 27
10 x 3 = 30
Q x A = E
7 x 3 = 21
7 x 4 = 28
7 x 5 = 35
7 x 6 = 42
I often conduct this exercise on a flip chart in front of a roomful of executives. It is absolutely amazing to see the look of disbelief on their faces as they see effectiveness jumping up so rapidly when you increase the A instead of the Q. I joke that you need a degree in advanced variable calculus to understand this deep and complex mathematical concept. The key point is simple: As a leader, you should ask yourself if you have succeeded in creating widespread acceptance. It is harder than most people think.
- Notes from Rajeev Peshawaria, Author of Too Many Bosses; Too Few Leaders (zanesafrit.typepad.com)
- Rajeev Peshawaria, What Are You Reading? (zanesafrit.typepad.com)