Does Your Brain Have More Gray Matter or White Matter? And Why the Heck Should You Care?

Before we answer the above questions, let’s start with a few more.  Have you ever wondered how you make decisions?  Would you like to know so that you can improve your decision making ability?  Would you like to know how your group/organization makes decisions and take some action to improve their decision making capabilities – if you could?

Would you prefer that decision makers (From Black Rock Blog):

 ”Focus more on long term goals OR short term metrics?”

“Be thorough and take time OR be more impulsive?”

“Recognize their shortcomings and seek more information and help OR assume they know everything?”

Consider rights of others and be more cooperative OR not worry about that and focus on the task?

Be more inquisitive and see more solutions OR depend on rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business?

Utilize Cooperation, Collaboration and Consensus-building to make better decisions and more effectively execute decisions OR ummm not?

 If you were leaning more to the left of those questions and want more of those qualities in decision makers, then it’s important that you know the following about these types of decision makers (From Harvard Business Review):

  •  They have 15% of gray matter compared to their counterparts(Gray matter equals information processing capabilities)
  • They have 10 times more white matter than their counterparts(White matter equals connecting the dots between the information produced by the gray matter)
  • The cord connecting the left and right sides of their brain is 10% thicker!!

And in case you were wondering why you should care, here are some corresponding business results (From Science Daily):

  •  Boards with high representation from such decision makers experience a 53% higher return on equity, a 66% higher return on invested capital and a 42% higher return on sales (Joy et al., 2007).
  • Having just one such decision maker on the board cuts the risk of bankruptcy by 20% (Wilson, 2009).
  •  When such directors are appointed, boards adopt new governance practices earlier, such as director training, board evaluations, director succession planning structures (Singh and Vinnicombe, 2002)
  • They make other board members more civilized and sensitive to other perspectives (Fondas and Sassalos, 2000) and reduce ‘game playing’ (Singh, 2008)
  • They are more likely to ask questions rather than nodding through decisions (Konrad et al., 2008).

 It would be very simple if I gave you an easy way of identifying such decision makers and then bringing them into your organization and making sure that their special attributes were being utilized in decision making?  Or, if there were an easy way of identifying these types of decision makers in your organization and then promoting them to make sure you were getting better decision making?  Or, making sure that all your teams have enough representation of these types of decision makers to ensure that teams are making better decisions and executing them more effectively?  We all wish life were that simple, don’t we?  Those that follow us regularly or have been through Strategic Sourcing/Supply Chain “U” with us will quickly remember the significance of decision making as a competency in organizations and why we spend so much time on it.  We have been doing extensive research and writing about decision making and other strategic competencies as being fundamental to the success of organizations.

Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you about another attribute that these types of decision makers share and it might important to note.  They are homogametic.  They are women.

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Making America More Competitive through our People

The theme for this month’s issue of Harvard Business Review is “Reinventing America – Why the World needs the U.S. to Bounce Back”.  There is one article in particular which highlights the need for the U.S. to become more competitive.  Here Michael E. Porter (ever hear of Porter’s Five Forces Model?) and Jan W. Rivkin discuss the need for America to repair some “cracks in the foundation” which from a macro perspective include:

  • Sound monetary and fiscal policies (such as manageable government debt levels);
  • Strong human development (good health care and strong K-12 education systems) and
  • Effective political institutions (rule of law and effective law-making bodies)

The area that I found most critical is human development, particularly the lack of focus on our education systems and the training / development of our employees.   There is a sister article in HBR entitled “A Jobs Compact for America’s Future” which really hones in on the human capital side of America’s challenges. In this article, author Thomas A. Kochan states “Without a well-trained, well-paid workforce the United States cannot compete with other nations effectively…”  He observes that “Corporate leaders frequently say that people are their most important asset.  Evidence suggests that many of them don’t believe a word of that claim.”   Kochan also points out that not all U.S. firms have fallen behind the rest of the world.  “Every industry includes firms that compete on innovation, product development and service quality.  These companies invest heavily in human and social capital. In the HR literature, the approach is called a high-road strategy, accompanied by high-performance or knowledge-based work systems. The specific practices vary across industries, but there are some generic features:

  • selection of employees with technical, problem-solving, and collaborative skills;
  • significant investment in training and de­velopment;
  • commitment to building trust and relying on employees to solve problems, coordinate operations, and drive innovation;
  • compensation systems that align the firm’s and the employees’ interests;…“

Two decades’ worth of research on high-road companies has documented their ability to achieve world-class productivity and service quality.  If we define U.S. competitiveness as the capacity to be attractive to businesses and to simultaneously create a more widely prosperous society, then high-road strategies become critical.”

Mr. Kochan is not alone in his thinking or his research.  There have been numerous articles written about how professionals (even those with advanced degrees) are leaving school with a lack of “soft skills” (we call them strategic competencies), which are the very skills (problem-solving, collaboration, communication) that are required for America to be competitive.  MBA and Masters programs (particularly in Supply Chain) are listening to the complaints from corporate America and are adjusting their curricula accordingly.  But many companies have not gotten the message and continue to cut training and development budgets entirely OR focus merely on technical training thereby cutting out all “soft skills” training.  Those “soft skills” or strategic competencies are the backbone of high performance work systems (“HPWS”).  HPWSs have been around for decades but seem to have gone through a resurgence as America scrambles for answers to our lack of global competitiveness.

If you think about it, the answer really isn’t all that hard.  America needs to put its money where its mouth is and make the American workforce an asset for our country.  Like any other asset it requires investment:

  • strengthening early childhood education
  • access to affordable post high school education
  • university curricula that REQUIRE more emphasis on strategic competencies
  • a significant investment in training and development within companies

If we can do all this, maybe America can be a global competitor once again.

Please join in the conversation.  We welcome your comments  . . . . . . . . .

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