The Need for Speed - part 2

I mentioned in part 1 of this article that most of us hold the belief that a fast decision is better than a slow one and dramatically better than no decision.

There are decisions that deserve plenty of debate, analysis and consultation but the vast majority are not worth that much input and effort. Very few can't be undone and nearly all can be adjusted as circumstances dictate or require.

The trend I see in organisations is cause for concern. People are doing it tough cleaning up otherwise avoidable messes they created by making poor initial decisions. Furthermore, that creates an environment of hesitation and trepidation about being the decision-maker in the first place.

If an organisation is not prepared to accept a level of failure and it’s employees operate in a culture of fear then organisations grind to a mind-numbingly slow pace.

Of course that’s not full licence for employees to be totally reckless with their decision-making. There is still accountability required. But instilling a culture of fear and retribution does nothing to enhance creative thinking that oftentimes will require some degree of risk taking. Getting the balance right is something each organisation needs to examine, then set the framework around which employees know and understand.

Bear in mind that speed doesn’t necessarily mean that one leader makes all the decisions from the top-down. The art (or science) of good decision-making is in seeking input and perspective from your team or trusted advisors, and then reach a decision in a way that ensured all opinions were heard.

Many of us may not realise that our first thoughts are usually not even our thoughts. They usually belong to someone else. Peter F. Drucker said in his book the Effective Executive of making effective decisions, that all decisions should start with the facts yet rarely are the facts presented actually facts, instead they are merely opinions.

all decisions should start with the facts yet rarely are the facts presented actually facts, instead they are merely opinions.

This is a trap for the inexperienced. To accept what one is told without question or assessing the situation yourself exposes you to falling prey to other people’s assumptions and opinions.

We haven’t done the hard work of real thinking. Quite often we cease our analysis when the first workable solution comes to us. We ‘satisfice.’ That is we sacrifice a perfect or better solution that may come in the future after further consideration, for a satisfactory solution now. And you know what? Quite often that is good enough.

We don’t want consensus to hold us hostage but seeking input from others helps us get to a good decision quickly, and with the added bonus of buy-in from those involved. That is, provided the team meeting is handled well. Which brings us back to where we started - meetings that don’t reach a conclusion and don’t meter out tasks.

Running an effective meeting is a skill and there's an art to knowing when to cease discussions and make a decision. Especially if the meeting seems evenly divided between to viable alternatives.

There’s a scene in the movie Air Force One where Harrison Ford stars as the US President is receiving advice from his military chief of staffs and the debate concludes with half his advisors advocating military action and half are not. The President listens carefully to everyone’s rationale and then decides. Done! Decision.

I know that’s only a movie but many leaders are reluctant to make the big call when there's sensible debate and good reason on both sides. In my experience I’ve found that people are quite often relieved when the leader steps up to the plate and accepts responsibility for a decision.

Perhaps something that’s not always going to be necessary but having a leader that is prepared to make the call if and when necessary provides the organisation’s employees a level of confidence and perhaps even comfort.

Speaking of comfort, that’s a good barometer for whether you are moving fast enough.

If you sense a low-level of discomfort then there’s a good chance your team is stretched. Not resting comfortably on their laurels but not stressed to the max either. That’s the sweet-spot where agility and longevity for the organisation will grow.

The Need for Speed - part 1

In almost every industry speed of innovation or production is key to success. When all else is equal, producing widgets faster than the competition usually puts you at an advantage. That’s true also for bringing a product or service to market. In the fast paced digital world of share trading, tech start-ups and even the media. There’s the quick and the dead.

Speed is vital for other business as well. Ask anyone to name fast, agile businesses and it’s a safe bet that they will name small businesses or companies whilst asking their opinion of companies they think are slow will generally elicit a host of large corporations.

By and large, big equals slow and cumbersome, small equals fast and flexible.

On the surface this may seem self-evident. However, peer a little deeper and some very large companies have learnt to harness the power of decision speed and are not stagnated by committees and meetings. Google and Amazon are but two sizable companies that most would consider agile despite their considerable size.

This hasn’t escaped the attention of Nobel economics laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman — considered the father of behavioral economics, who said of his consulting experience that he had “expected to be awed” by the quality of the decision-making in organisations in order to survive in such a competitive world.

In a talk at the Wharton People Analytics Conference, he revealed that he was underwhelmed.

You look at large organisations that are supposed to be optimal, rational. And the amount of folly in the way these places are run, the stupid procedures that they have, the really, really poor thinking you see all around you, is actually fairly troubling,” he said.

So what could we consider as an anabolic steroid for business? If you boil most business down to its core it’s making decisions and then taking action on that decision - executing is a common term. Time and time again successful organisations do both of these, not with haste but certainly with speed.

MAKING DECISIONS

100% done today is better than 100% perfect sometime in the future. That doesn’t mean that an average decision or plan is set in stone never to change. Making decisions, taking action and adjusting as more information becomes available is what successful organisations do.

Nobody gets everything 100% correct first time every time. Google changes its algorithms, Apple updates and upgrades its software yearly and Microsoft invented the Zune (You remember a Zune right?). So a speedy yet informed and considered decision get us out of the gate and into the race. 

This isn’t to say all decisions should be made quickly. Some decisions are more complex or critical than others. On occasions it may be prudent to delay a decision pending further information. However, the decision to wait must or should be the conscious decision regarding the issue. Waiting as a result of indecision is essentially avoiding the decision and action and that causes lack of agility.

Companies’ worldwide waste an incredible amount of time with meetings that don’t derive an outcome – no decision was made. I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings where debate has raged and then, when the meeting concludes, nothing has been concluded and if it was, action items haven’t had due dates set.

Here’s one of the fundamentals of speed. When a decision is made is much more important than what decision is made.

Right from the beginning, deciding on when a decision will be made is an insightful yet formidable change that will grease the ‘decision wheels’ for speed.

Have you ever attended a meeting where the convener has thrown out the challenge to the group that we need a decision by the end of the meeting or within a certain amount of time? Try it when you next convene a meeting to resolve an issue. Nothing focuses our minds like a deadline.

 

In the next part of The Need for Speed we'll examine more decision speed techniques to truly get agile.

Electoral Decision Fatigue?

By the time you are reading this Australia will have a new Prime Minister. Full disclosure, this article was penned before the polling booths closed and whether Malcolm Turnbull is returned to office or Bill Shorten, Leader of the opposition is to replace him is not the subject of this discussion.

What Australia has suffered through for the past month and a half is the most bland, mediocre, and banal election cycle in my living memory.

There have been no theme songs, no celebrity endorsements, no big audacious goals nor massive big slip-ups. It’s been … well, boring. Australians choosing their next Prime Minister has really come down to who they object to the least.

What we have also seen is a race to the bottom. He who can simplify major issues to a three word slogan the best. (And I say ‘he’ because despite some very impressive and senior women in Australian politics i.e. Tanya Plibersek and Julie Bishop to name but two, they have been noticeably absent from the campaigns for either party.) As for three word slogans, we can blame Tony Abbott, former prime minister, who began the trend with such classics as ‘Ditch the witch’ (A reference to Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard) and who could forget other gems such as ‘Big fat tax’ and ‘Stop the boats’.

It seemingly worked in Australia’s previous election and this election has seen more of the same. When it comes to decision-making the Australian population is treated like imbeciles. The voting public is expected to form their decision on either “Jobs and Growth” or “Our positive plan.”

A quick look at both slogans reveals how little regard for the intellect of the general public both our major parties hold.

‘Our positive plan’. I spend the majority of my efforts developing plans for my clients big and small. Whether a planning for an emergency or writing a business plan, allplans are positive. Can anyone think of a time when someone sat down and developed a negative plan?

‘Jobs and growth’. Quite frankly, isn’t that what any government is supposed to be doing? Telling me that your side of the political divide will create jobs and growth is like telling me that yellow cab taxi’s also have drivers, or your local public swimming pool also has water. That’s not a political promise, that par for the course from any elected party.

Could it be that Brexit has overshadowed Australia’s election? Has the sideshow of Donald Trump and the US Primaries drained so much interest out of politics in Australia that near enough has become good enough to win an election? Are we all suffering from plebiscite and referendum decision fatigue?

Critics of the UK’s vote for Brexit are using the recent ‘leave’ victory to demonstrate that democracies should not rely on referenda to make important decisions.

They argue that the complexities of issues that are held up for public referendum are beyond the comprehension (or interest) of the voting public. Instead issues with diverse, international and perhaps far reaching implications should be left to knowledgeable elected officials who are far more intimate with the issues upon which they are expected to make decisions.

A similar groundswell of populism and sloganeering is being witnessed in the US right now. “Build a wall”, “Ban all Muslims” are but two simple slogans that take incredibly complex issues and reduce them to sound bites designed to reach all corners of the voting expanse. Americans are expected to decide whom to elect as Leader of the Free World based upon such simplistic assertions as these. That’s cause for the entire planet to hold its breath in suspense.

Is it any wonder then that within any democracy right now, voters are expected to make choices based upon abridged overviews of election promises with scant details of how exactly a decision will be implemented, funded or managed, that interest is dwindling.

We’ve reached a paradox. Garnering a decision from an electorate on issues they know little about requires massive simplification yet simplifying complex issues to the lowest common denominator could be considered deceiving the very electorate were expecting support from.

There are interesting times ahead as Britain grapples with the effects of its Brexit decision, the US decides its future leader and Australia wakes tomorrow to discover if we decided that Mr. Bland or Mr. Blander is our new PM.