Decide Fast, Learn Fast, Win Fast

Ready to Unleash Your Transformation? Focus on Decision Making.

How many time has this happened to you? Its Monday morning, and you just logged into your weekly staff meeting when you get an urgent call from senior management. They want you to call them immediately, join their conference call or maybe even come to their office to discuss why your company cannot move faster with your projects, change, strategy execution, technology, process improvements, etc.? At least 3 times this month? It happens everyday, and it happened again today. The pace of your change needs to be faster. It will happen again tomorrow! So, what do you do? For starters, I propose you start with your decision making.

A company can only move as fast as they make decisions. The effectiveness of decision making is like the speedometer for your project, change initiative, strategic endeavor, etc. If decisions are slow, your transformation will be slow. If decisions are fast, your company will be able to move forward faster. Decisions create actions that translate into tasks for people in the company to complete. No decisions, no actions, no tasks, no completion.

DecideFastLearnFastWinFastIn Leading Successful Change, authors Shea & Solomon propose to change an organization you need to change behavior. They elaborate further to describe 8 levers of change, one of which they describe as decision allocation. Simply put, think of this as “who decides what, and where?” There are models available to help you structure the decision making process. I personally prefer the DACI model: Driver, Approvers, Contributors, Informed because it is simple and emphasizes accountability in the role of Driver to make the decision happen.

Before we go rushing off to “just make more decisions, faster”, lets consider some drivers behind slower decision making. When companies lack action, they are indecisive. Indecision can be caused for may reasons including but not limited to: not enough information, too much information, and unclear roles and responsibilities. Said another way, people hesitate to make decisions because they fear the decision will not have the required quality demanded by the company.

This balance of speed vs quality can be challenging. Consider the classic 2×2 above to assist with guiding actions to improve your decision making. If you find yourself with fast decision making, but low quality, focus on learning faster from your low quality decisions. If you find yourself with high quality decisions but too much time to make them, focus on deciding faster by embracing more risk.

Make no mistake, if you make decisions faster you improve your company’s ability to move forward faster. Have you heard the old saying “Win Fast, Fail Fast“? While it is very applicable in this context, I prefer “Decide Fast, Learn Fast, Win Fast”. If you make decisions faster, and they truly lack the quality you desire, engage your learning capability and dial your learnings back into a new decision to ultimately win faster.

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Create Purpose. Create Relationships. Create Engagement. Pumpkinfest


Each of us have experiences within the context of the video below. We all volunteer, give back to our communities, or do things simply because we enjoy them. Said another way, we live our lives with purpose.


Our shareholders have a purpose for investing in us. Our employees have a purpose for working with us. And, our customers have a purpose for buying from us.


With this in mind, we are called to create the purpose for our teams in order to shape our shareholder, employee, and customer value propositions. While creating a purpose in your organization has many desirable effects, I want to focus on the correlation of purpose to relationships to engagement.


By creating a purpose, we create an opportunity for our teams to build a relationship with the company on a professional, personal, and even an emotional level.


  • Professional – A fair exchange of value for money exists. Your skills and role are matched.
  • Personal – A sense of pride comes through, where the employer offers value beyond compensation to include things like learning, attractive experiences, and shared beliefs/culture.
  • Emotional – In these situations, you likely work with people whom you consider some of your closest friends. Said another way, you likely have shared experiences in your work life that reflect relationships and experiences similar to high school or college.


Through purpose, you plant the seed of employee engagement that can grow to bear the fruit of professional, personal, and emotional engagement. Of course, you need more than purpose (e.g. values, culture, etc.) for the fruit to ripen, but it all starts with purpose. In turn, engagement of your teams ultimately translates into great products and customer service, thus fulfilling the stakeholder, customer, and employee value propositions mentioned above.


What do you do to create an environment to work together with a purpose? Start with purpose, and invest in employee engagement to position your team to delivery the best possible products and services to your customers.



Words + Actions = Trust.

How do you create an environment of trust in your teams? Whether you have a new team or a team that has worked together for many years, how much time do you spend as a leader building trust?


Trust should be a competitive differentiator in your team. Of course! Who would debate that statement? However, easier said than done.

Think about the last 3-4 years and the erosion of trust in our society. What feelings do these words arouse in you: Enron, Madoff, Martha Stewart, Financial Bailout?

Our opportunity as leaders of change is to create teams that inspire trust with our internal (employees, managers, colleagues) and external (customers, suppliers, partners) teammates. Try some of these ideas:

  • Create your opportunity for trust with words, then follow with action.
  • Choose to believe in your teammates and tell them that you do.
  • Model trust. Be trustworthy. Do as you say and say a you do.
  • Seek opportunities to create trust in individual, small team, and large team settings.
  • Bring teammates into your planning / actions / tasks. Let them put a fingerprint on the work of the team.
  • Delegate. Sharing responsibility with others demonstrates that you at a minimum, want to trust them.
  • Be candid and dispassionate. Honesty in communications without emotional interference can be a powerful leadership technique.
  • Have courage to be more trusting of others than they might be of you. Allow yourself to carefully demonstrate trust in others that might extend beyond your current relationship today.

To the extent that you can create a culture of trust within your teams you position your customers to consume that trust. Remember, being a customer of a company is a good mirror to what it is like to be an employee of that same company.

What is Your Transformation Engine?

“In the future, the real core competence of companies will be the ability to continuously and creatively destroy and remake themselves to meet customer demands.”

Noel Tichy, Author of The Leadership Engine

Animation of a radial engine.

The concept of re-inventing ourselves is not new. There are countless examples of this mantra in history (think about the U.S.S.R, Germany, or China) and our contemporary culture (think of the TV show The Biggest Loser or the movie The Pursuit of Happyness). The concept rarely lacks lustre. The real challenge surrounds your willingness and ability to reinvent  yourself. How do you reinvent yourself? Your team? Your company? Your community?

From a transformation perspective, the challenge is to create an engine that will drive your change agenda to produce your desired results. To make this happen, a couple of key questions should to be answered to set you off in the right direction, including but not limited to:

  • Do you know where you are going? What are your desired financial results? What are your desired non-financial results? How do these two sets of results relate to each other?
  • How will you drive the transformation? Who serves as the gas pedal? Who serves as the brakes? How do you minimize stepping on the gas and the brake simultaneously?
  • Who are the brains of your transformation? Do you have enough? Do you have the right ones? Are they performing to your needs?
  • Where is the heart of your change agenda? Is your team engaged? Have you won the hearts and minds of the team?
  • Would you describe your transformation engine as “command, control, & authority”, “collaborative innovation”, or “priority driven teamwork”?
  • Are you unleashing the professional, personal, and emotional capacity of the team to maximize your opportunity for success? If not, why not? What can you do differently to make this happen?
  • As with any engine, what is  your fuel? Are you maintaining your engine? Is it working in concert with the other moving parts or are they out of sync components?

Behind every result, good or bad, there are a series of events. And behind those events are people making decisions, or not, that impact the future. If you know your desired results, you are one step ahead of most. With the benefit of understanding the desired results, your challenge is to identify the transformation engine and associated capabilities that will propel you to deliver your desired financial and non-financial results.

Organizational Capability for Transformation

Navy File Photo - President of the U.S. Naval ...
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“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral John Stockdale, USN.

How do you align the business with IT? How do you confront the reality of a business strategy when it represents a threat to the status quo? How do you align that direction with a portfolio of projects that incrementally deliver on the desired change? In order to transformation a business, company, division, or team, you need to assemble many disciplines and techniques including but not limited to: business strategy, enterprise architecture, project management, personal development, communication, and training.

There are many books, white papers, and commentary on business strategy, project management, change management, IT governance, and organizational design. However, I rarely see any transformational thought leadership that describes these concepts as organizational capabilities, or services that work together in unison. When teams have raised their capability to deliver multiple skills like this, they position themselves better for success.

In order to transform an organization, the organization needs to position itself for success by building the capability to change, or transform. Too frequently, leaders assemble only one or maybe two of the disciplines listed above to deliver significant change. Calling on Admiral Stockdale’s profound leadership, transformational leaders should have confidence in the 1 or 2 skills they have brought together to drive change, but they should also confront the reality that most transformations fail. Have you assembled all the skills and capabilities you need to be successful with your change? What additional capabilities does your team need to better position you for success? Confront your reality and adjust  your team to bring more transformational capabilities to the table.

What about Creating Marketplace Disruption?

LinkedIn: Reading List by Amazon.

If you want a practical, down to earth view on dealing with transformational challenges, you owe it to yourself and your clients / company to read this book. Adam Hartung’s “phoenix principle” concept crystallizes what companies and teams can do to make transformations happen. For a quick insight into the thinking, check out his blog at

Adam does a great job framing business transformation or changes within several actionable constructs like: success formulas, defend and extend management, and white space. These concepts are unique in my opinion as most other business transformation or change management books stay in the academic theory space. While the academics books fly at 100,000 feet, Adam’s contributions take you down below 50,000 feet. It gives you constructs to frame your own transformations.

  • Success Formulas – What business patterns has your company or client developed to turn a profit? Do they work still? Are they cost challenged? Are they threatened by new market entrants with a technology disruption? What is your next success formula?
  • Defend & Extend Management – This was my favorite concept. You know this one. You live it everyday. I’ll bet you have a manager or executive who is very happy with the current environment and may even be content. As content increases, appetite to change decreases because change represents a risk to their content. When this happens, you end up with a defend and extend management approach, where companies look to minimize risk to their current content in deference to growth. As opposed to conquering new challenges, individuals and teams (even companies) look to defend or preserve what they have today, in spite of it (it = sales, revenue, profit, etc.) declining on a periodic basis.
  • White space – Where is your company innovating with permission to attack the sacred cows? As a related tangent to this discussion, check out my previous post regarding my concept of Sacred Cow Driven Change. For those companies that have a dependency on a stream of sales / revenue / profit, find the white space in your business, or area where you have no risk to the current stream of sales / revenue / profit and innovate, take risk, roll with the punches, try new ideas.

For the technologists out there, I suggest this book is to business transformation as the book Design Patterns by the Gang of Four was to object oriented software. This is a work that you can refer to for patterns to model your transformations from.

After finishing the book , you will still be left with the question of how to apply the concepts to your own scope of responsibility, just like most other concepts on business transformation. The magic with transformation is in the “how” not necessarily the “what”, although this contribution by Adam does a great job with framing the what.

The New New CIO Role: Big Changes Ahead

The New New CIO Role: Big Changes Ahead –

In a recent discussion with a previous client of mine and now friend, I was challenged as to why I view the role of CIO as exciting. The attached article does a good job of answering my friend Jim’s question. Incidentally, you can read Jim’s musings on his blog at O’Reilly Radar.

What’s not to love about being on the border between the business and IT, or shall I say the border between France and Germany circa 1944? That would be brutal. 1970 might be a little more tolerable. 2010 even more so. This analogy is not meant to compare the brutalities of war with our current business environment, rather this conscious exaggeration via analogy hopefully crystallizes the concept of being on a border between two different cultures. I told Jim “some people are just drawn to chaos!” with big smile on my face like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. If you enjoy creating order out of chaos, if you enjoy bringing structure to an unstructured challenge, and you can translate business and technology, then the CIO role is something you should consider.

My favorite insights from this article:

  • There are two kinds of CIOs: operational and strategic. Which one plays to your sweet-spot?
  • On tomorrow’s CIOs…the future CIOs have to be excellent in negotiating; spend all their time with the business; be a visionary; be a “tweener” – someone who always operated between the business and IT. How do you map into this description?
  • A CIO who is transforming their business needs to concentrate on the four P’s: Perception, Profile, Participation and Performance. Rate yourself in these areas.
  • CIO = Chief Transformation Officer What have YOU transformed?
  • And they have to operate or deliver. Think…DELIVERY is job 1! Don’t forget the daily blocking and tackling.

I recently came across another interesting corroborating perspective on the CIO role as a Chief Insight Officer. I found this very “insightful”.

At the end of the day, technology is disrupting everything. We look back on history and refer to the industrial era, and reflect on the quantity of change that period delivered. We are now working within the “knowledge” era where the knowledge you gain today, might be obsolete in a matter of months based on the pace of change. We are constantly learning and displacing old tools or techniques with new ones to maintain our profit margins and compete with larger and smaller competition. All along, the CIO is in the eye of the storm, and the person who can strategically create order from chaos while operating an environment of increasing complexity and building effective relationships across the business and IT leadership will make a measurable difference to a company’s bottom line.