Close this search box.
Close this search box.

The Danger Of Bad Forensic Analysis

A deep dive into the sausage-making at any company reveals a fundamental truth: human behavior is as critical to success as smart strategy.

bad forensic analysisThe other day, I went into my office with two colleagues, gave each of them a section of The Wall Street Journal, and we spent the next 45 minutes reading whatever captured our interest. When we were finished, we discussed the various articles we found, from finance to marketing to strategy to international business. Much to our chagrin, though not our surprise, none made any mention of the impact that the human behavior of executives had on the performance of their organizations.

For example, one article covered a large, international private equity firm that had purchased a variety of branded companies in the U.S. Not long after the transaction, the markets softened and the firm lost a great deal of money.

The authors of the article focused on how the PE firm had misjudged the market and made poor decisions around financial trends in the industry, and then explored how it could recoup its losses through additional transactions. What they did not do was provide any insight or express any interest in how the leaders at the firm came to the decision in the first place. Did they trust one another, argue freely before making the decision, hold one another accountable for following through on the transaction?

In my 30 years working within and consulting to organizations, I’ve learned that these behavioral questions are not only relevant to the success of any strategic decision, they are central to that success.

I learned this lesson more than 20 years ago while working with a client run by a famous CEO leading a well-known technology company. Anyone with a view into the sausage-making at the company could see that the leaders there, taking a cue from the CEO, lacked trust and rarely told each other the truth about difficult issues, choosing instead to protect themselves from possible blame.

Of course, the company eventually imploded and was sold to a competitor for a fraction of its previous value, devastating a regional economy and damaging the lives of thousands of families. When the media analyzed this catastrophe, what did they cite as its causes? Strategic miscues and bugs in the product. While those issues existed, they were merely inevitable downstream symptoms of the real underlying problem—the lack of candor and interpersonal rigor among executives.

So, what is the lesson here for CEOs?

First, be extremely skeptical about what you read in business media. That’s not to demean journalists who attempt to give readers compelling and digestible morsels using a limited number of words. It’s just the nature of media. And when you consider that those journalists don’t have the benefit of watching the sausage-making, they can hardly be blamed.

Second, and most important of all, do not let yourself fall into the same trap of bad forensic analysis when addressing problems in your own organization. It is both tempting and dangerous to take an intellectually lazy approach to identifying the root causes of our company’s successes and failures. But when we overlook the impact of interpersonal issues and behavioral shortcomings, we fail to see the full picture and leave ourselves vulnerable to making the same mistakes again and again.

While journalists might have an excuse for their misguided and incomplete analysis, CEOs do not. After all, they were witnesses to the messy processes that led to the decision-making and had their hands in the sausage all along.

Read more: Three Dangerous Biases CEOs Need To Overcome


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.