How Do You Make Complex Decisions?


When I’ve asked managers how they make important decisions, I get responses like:

“Who can say. We talk about an issue and after a lot of back-and-forth propositions and challenges, an option sometimes emerges.”

“We discuss and discuss. We may not even agree on the problem.”

“It’s like trying to get a pro golfer to explain how he hits a ball so far. We just do it.”

Too often, leaders plunge into discussions that just keep churning and churning until there is a brewing chaos. Amidst doubt and confusion members adjourn without a clear direction. Or worse, members agree to a watered-down option for which there is only lukewarm support.

To avoid endless delays or high-risk moon shots, present an issue and discuss until key players agree on the exact problem. Set a deadline for making the decision. Create a climate that encourages vigorous debate of multiple options. View differing opinions as helpful. Take no votes or polls.

Strive for an option that most all can, at least to some extent, support. If no such option emerges, the leader makes the call. Close by saying, “This is what we are going to do and I need everyone’s commitment.”

Fast is better than Slow


Vendor:  “There will be about a two-week delay in the delivery of your supplies.”

Customer:  “It may be another four weeks before we get our revised specifications to you.”

Project Manager:  “We’ll need another three or four weeks to complete the project.”

A print company increased its business dramatically by promising and delivering product with much shorter lead times.   A manufacturer of auto accessories doubled its business in three years by shrinking delivery times.  A retail outlet increased profits and reduced labor costs by anticipating customer questions and resolving issues in their first communication.

News alert—speed adds value.

Surprisingly to many, it is often possible to be faster and better at the same time.  Look to increase speed in multiple ways–shorten meetings, schedule fewer meetings, time agenda items, create deadlines on everything, make the decision (If it does not work, change it.), reduce approval processes, ensure that people have the talent to perform their jobs, time every major task, complete lesser tasks quickly, assume your day ends at noon.

Make it a point to deliver some items ahead of schedule.  Money swirls down the drain when projects, decisions and deliveries take too long.  Contrary to the fable, fast is better than slow.

Team Harmony May Not Always Equal Commitment


“We have a very cohesive team,” a manager commented.

“How do you determine that?” I asked.

“Members respect each other and get along really well.  I think it is because I seek consensus when making tough decisions.”

I had a chance to visit with some of the members of this manager’s team and got differing opinions.

“He calls a meeting,” said one member.  “Two team members are pretty vocal.  They offer opinions and most everyone else just goes along.”

Another member commented, “I did offer a different view at one meeting but no one responded.  The conversation continued as if I had never said anything.”

Still another, “We are all very polite and friendly and we tend to go along with whatever the talkers want.  But I don’t think the team is really committed.”

Managers who strive for consensus decisions often send signals that conflict is undesirable.  But in reality, team members will have differing ideas about almost any issue.

Effective leaders understand that “disagreement” is the natural order of teams.  They strive for passionate debates among members and then select the option that best serves the mission.  If disagreeing members have a meaningful voice, they can still support the decision.

Do You Promote on Merit?


“I think we should promote Ethan,” a manager said.  “He has been here the longest and he gets along with everyone.”

“What about Angela?” asked another manager.

“She does good work but she is not certified.”

“What do you mean?”

“After training, she chose not to take the exam.  She only has a junior college degree and she has been with us for just two years.”

When evaluating persons for promotion, discussions often center around a mishmash of issues such as:  length of service, college degrees, licenses, certifications and even popularity among co-workers.

The major criteria for promotion, I believe, should evolve from the answers to two questions. What skills does the position require?   Which candidate best demonstrates these skills?

We have all known highly-certified and advance-degreed individuals who still did not possess the skills for performance excellence.  And there are countless examples of individuals with few, or no degrees, who are extremely talented and skilled.  Remember, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg are college drop outs.

I understand there may be social and media pressure to promote on factors other than merit.  I also understand that the most successful organizations, just like sports teams, strive to put their best players on the field.

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Write Down Team Objectives


Great leaders reach their annual goals, meet or surpass quarterly objectives and insist on hitting weekly metrics.

Teams that show up and work hard will achieve a lot.  Teams that strive for specific objectives (outcomes) achieve more.

Yet, when I ask managers and employees to list the top three objectives for their teams, surprises bubble up.  I combine the individual lists and the result looks like a hundred-car pile-up.  Items fight with each other, general (often meaningless) statements emerge from the deep, and important outcomes disappear into the mist.  Literally no one agrees on the priorities.

Confusion abounds in spite of the fact that companies have systems for identifying, communicating and tracking objectives.

If you want to send a bat signal to your team, write down three objectives you want the team to achieve by quarter end.  List three measurable targets for each objective.  Communicate this list to your boss and employees.  Monthly, attach a symbol (green, yellow, red) to each objective to signal how the team is doing.  Discuss progress, or lack of, briefly in regular meetings.

To galvanize a team, members most know what defines success and they must receive timely feedback (scores) on how well, or poorly, they are doing.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice!


At a crucial point in the game, the coach yelled, “Take care of the ball!  We’ve had two fumbles already.  We don’t need another one.”  All players focus on “don’t fumble” and too often there is a fumble or another mistake.

Managers see repeated mistakes as something akin to the pneumonic plague and admonish the team with, “We are supposed to learn from our mistakes–not keep making them!”

To reduce repeated mistakes, consider three approaches.

One, shine the spotlight brightly on successes, no matter how small.  Start catching employees doing things right.  Cheer all improvements.  Managers who focus strongly on mistakes, like coaches who prioritize fumble avoidance, create tense environments which actually contribute to error-making.

Two, require checklists whenever appropriate.  Pilots who have successfully performed hundreds of take-offs and landings still complete checklists.  Why?  Checklists are proven devices for reducing mistakes.

Three, consider removing an employee from a task if, after training and experience, the employee continues making dumb mistakes.  All tasks, no matter how simple, require some degree of talent to be performed well.  Remember Shaquille O’Neil, after untold hours of practice, could not improve his free-throw shooting.

You Behavior at Holiday Parties Counts


“I guess I should not have had that last drink,” Fred commented.  “But it was a party.  We were having a good time.  The vice president was in worse shape than I was.  I don’t think anyone will hold it against me.”

At the annual holiday party, Fred a front-line manager, had apparently told a couple of off-color jokes and sang a karaoke tune loudly and badly.  And that was after he spilled his food dish into the lap of one of his staff member’s spouses.

Like it or not, you are the leader twenty-four-seven.  Your behavior off-the-job, on the weekend, at the grocery store or during annual celebrations impacts your leadership.

Whenever and wherever you make a fool of yourself, descriptions of the incident will get back to your workplace; it may even be on YouTube.  And you can bet that all unprofessional behaviors will negatively impact your leadership effectiveness.

Do attend your company events and use the experience to enhance your leadership.  Initiate greetings with your staff and family members.  Make it a point to say something nice.  Visit with people from other departments.  Express your appreciation for their contributions.  Ask others about their personal interests.  Minimize the alcohol.