Friday, September 4, 2015

PC Party of Alberta–The Importance of a Post-Mortem

“Survival my only hope. Success my only revenge” ― Patricia Cornwell, Postmortem

Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. - Vin Scully

Cognitive psychology tells us that the unaided human mind is vulnerable to many fallacies and illusions because of its reliance on its memory for vivid anecdotes rather than systematic statistics. - Steven Pinker

There are two ways of lying. One, not telling the truth and the other, making up statistics. - Josefina Vazquez Mota

When I was a young, impressionable lad growing up in a small town in Newfoundland, I would sometimes sit spellbound as older generations would tell ghost stories designed to frighten anyone.  A theme often used was the notion of someone who had died violently and without warning and as a result, their ghost was doomed to haunt the area where they had died because their spirit did not know that the body had expired.

Watching the PC Party of Alberta go down in a stinging defeat tonight in the Calgary-Foothills election, I wonder if I am witnessing a similar type of ghost – a political party that has died but which doesn’t know it yet.

When the PC Party was unceremoniously dumped in the general election in May of this year, they were accused of many things, including being dishonest, elitist, arrogant, indifferent and ignorant of the needs of the people (and those are the polite comments).

When the by-election process began in Calgary-Foothills, the PC Party candidate had some alleged discrepancies in education claimed versus education obtained, drawing comments from many (including myself in the post PC Party and Blair Houston–Isn’t Honesty Still the Best Policy?) about the potential dishonesty of the candidate.  The comments were never responded to by the candidate or his party.

The PC Party Interim Leader routinely quoted unnamed polls which claimed the candidate to be taking the riding by storm while no verifiable poll showed the candidate as even coming close.  There were even cries of violations of the Elections Act when a robocall from the Interim Leader cited unverifiable poll results without citing the source.

And then there were insidious personal claims regarding the candidate’s past which, fortunately for him, did not make the light of day.  Had the race been closer, I have no doubt that some unscrupulous person would have used them in a desperate bid for a victory over him.

Despite numerous requests for clarification regarding the allegations against the candidate and the sources of data for the so-called poll results, the candidate and the Interim Leader remained silent.

When I questioned an MLA about the dishonesty that was apparent in the campaign, I was told that what mattered was that the candidate needed to win.

It was this level of general dishonesty and values abandonment that caused me to re-examine the PC Party’s values and I came upon these items on their website:

We will be accountable for the responsibilities that we accept. We will consult with Albertans on public policy matters and we will provide Albertans with access to information to allow for an accurate assessment of our actions.

We are a Party for all Albertans. We welcome their thoughts, their efforts, and their support of the principles of progressive conservatism.

Members of the PCAA Board of Directors, PC Alberta Fund, respective committee members, PCAA Constituency Presidents, MLA’s, and MLA candidates/nominees shall treat each other with respect, honesty, dignity and fairness.

It reminded me that there is a significant difference between putting a lot of nice sounding phrases on a website and living them when it counts – when it is tempting to do anything but live one’s professed values.

So what happens next - the courage to examine one’s strengths and faults

The PC Party demonstrated that between the general election and this by-election, they have in fact learned absolutely nothing and repeated many of their earlier mistakes.

In the private sector, when we win or lose big, it is often of value to conduct a post-mortem, either to understand how the big win came about so we can recreate it or how the big loss came about so we can avoid it.

It is clear from how this election was conducted that this was either not done at all after the general election loss, not done well or done well but whose results were completely ignored, making it necessary to revisit the need for a post-mortem analysis to have some shot at improving the future of the Party.

A classic post-mortem has some primary elements in it, including but not limited to the following:

  • Allowing the appropriate amount of time to transpire between the event being analyzed and the post-mortem itself, allowing people to catch their breath and gather data but not allowing so much time to pass that people forget the need to have a post-mortem because “the sting” has faded.
  • Setting an appropriate post-mortem meeting format, including having specific time contracts and agendas that contain realistic, measurable expectations and outcomes.  Meaningless “it wasn’t my fault”, “it was someone else’s fault” or “we are completely helpless victims” messages in the form of witch hunts, gripe sessions or expressions of victimhood merely massage or destroy egos but don’t produce solutions.
  • Honesty in understanding what went right without inflating one’s ego too much.
  • Honesty in understanding what went wrong without destroying anyone’s ego too severely.
  • Understanding the real reasons for the win or the loss and knowing how to apply the right levels of discernment in identifying useful, valid information while rejecting the rest.
  • Inviting the right people to the meeting.  Not everyone deserves a voice and some voices that would prefer to be silent need to be heard.
  • Ensuring that the post-mortem be conducted by an objective, outside observer who has no vested interest in the team itself but instead, has as their purpose the need to produce a valuable post-mortem.
  • Ensuring that the post-mortem is respectful, honest, humble, ego-less, fact-focused and thorough, with measurable action items, assignable accountability / responsibility and delivery dates being a result of the process.
  • Ensuring that the leadership, leading up to, during and following the post-mortem, clearly motivate, communicate and monitor expectations, communication mechanisms, collaboration and results.  Servant leaders who successfully cast a positive vision are much more useful than bullies and dictators.
  • Ensuring that the results of the post-mortem are actually followed up on with appropriate communication and support mechanisms in place to ensure success.  Great ideas with no follow-up or success-focused mechanisms for support become sources of “I told you so” later (if anyone is left standing to say it).

Teams that are not afraid to examine themselves, to identify where they went wrong, to champion where they went right and to find a way to produce better results through intelligent strategic and tactical correction produce winning teams.

The others?

Well – they usually end up as examples for others to avoid:

Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

The Bottom Line:

Winning when the wins come easy often take little effort and little is learned from such victories.

Losing requires a lot less effort than winning and little is learned if one’s ego or resources don’t allow for analysis of the loss.

Winning after having experienced a loss (especially a potentially catastrophic or fatal loss) requires significant levels of effort, courage, honesty, transparency, collaboration, respect, knowledge, data, strategy, intelligence, wisdom and humility.  While many who have experienced easy wins often go on and on about how great they are, the true measure of greatness is in how well one comes back after a difficult or staggering loss.

Will the PC Party of Alberta bounce back from the embarrassing losses of this year or is this how we will remember them?

PC Party of Alberta - "It was a good run while it lasted"

I guess it depends on how well they are able to examine themselves and if they are willing to do whatever it takes to become relevant again.

Do you think they are willing to do whatever it takes to turn their fortunes around?

Do you think they have what it takes to accomplish this?

Do you think they have the humility to see the importance of performing a post-mortem and the importance of executing it well based on their findings?

Does what they think even matter anymore?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – The Inevitable Spin and Closing Thoughts

Many in the PC Party of Alberta (and some columnists) are spinning this loss as a victory for the PC Party because their third place finish was so close to the second place NDP.

Unfortunately, when one takes a riding that has always been dominated by one Party (even as recently as the general election four months prior to the by-election) and that same Party finishes almost 17% points behind the winner four months later, that’s definitely not a win.

Unofficial results

That’s an embarrassment, plain and simple.

The truth that the PC Party doesn’t want to discuss is that the Asian voters in the riding almost always vote for the PCs so the Party was guaranteed a certain percentage of the vote – a reality that will change over time as other parties begin to dominate the political landscape in the riding and across the Province.

Such a difference in how one sees such a loss is a primary example of the different lenses that a politician and someone in business use to view the world.

Meanwhile, the Interim Leader of the PC Party noted this on Twitter:

Ric McIver tweet

Unfortunately, this positive spin ignores a dishonest campaign but this will be forgotten in the memory of a Party striving for relevance.

But then again, this is what a politician is best at – spinning a loss into a win no matter what the data says to the contrary.

On a side note but related to the concept of “how does one spin something unfortunate”, the revelation a couple of days before the by-election that sitting PC MLA Sandra Jansen would be speaking at a Federal Liberal Party fund raiser demonstrates that the Party has lost its control over optics, message management and internal communication.  While I applaud her right to be bipartisan (we might be better off if more politicians did this), the poor timing and optics gave the PC Party more jabs to ward off in the critical days leading up to the election.  In politics and in business, we must define our own message lest someone else define one on our behalf, possibly to our detriment.

There is much to do within the PC Party of Alberta.

Do they have the will, the resources, the humility, the intelligence and the time to climb out of the death spiral that they are in?

Time will tell although history in Albert politics is not on their side, since every political party up to now has ceased to exist shortly after being removed from power and their initial stab at proving that they have changed hasn’t demonstrated much if any change at all.

Meanwhile …..

This is likely my last musing on the PC Party of Alberta – it’s time to move onto things that are more relevant.

Related posts:

  • PC Party of Alberta – Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned
  • Politics and the Mutability of Human Values
  • PC Party and Blair Houston–Isn’t Honesty Still the Best Policy?
  • PC Party of Alberta–Who Will Bell the Cat?
  • PC Party of Alberta–Proving Einstein and Churchill Right?

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