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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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.

Collaborating – Do you want to be happy or be right?

Have you ever found yourself in the place where you are debating one side of an issue and gaining no ground whatsoever? Have you ever asked yourself what matters more, being happy or being right?

In my change efforts, I frequently look for and, more importantly, listen for these two points. The next time you find yourself in a debate or a slight disagreement, try to determine if the other person is really worried about being right (e.g. I know the best way to do this and there is only one way, my way) or if they are willing to be happy and accept an answer that might be somewhat different than their current view. Its not always easy to hear the differences. A lot of time it comes down to emotions. If you can gain a perspective on their emotions, you will do yourself a favor. Here are a couple of my favorite questions to assess the situation:

  • What is the emotional state of the person debating me? Are they frustrated and driving to a point to prove themselves correct?
  • Ask “So what?” in a very genuinely curious fashion. Without being curious, you will sound (and be) arrogant. Asking this question is the best way to cut through the “noise” and distill the real underlying issues. HINT – you many need to ask the “so what” question multiple times until you get to the real root cause. Being genuine is the key here. NOTE – This cannot be taught. You are either genuine or not, and people can figure that out.
  • Is this person interested in my perspective? When I share my view is the person really listening to me? Or, are they just waiting until I pause so they can insert additional supporting reasons for why they are right? Ever heard of “active listening”? Do you use it? Do they?
  • Last, ask them the question of this entry, “do you want to be happy or be right?”. Be prepared for the “what do you mean, response?”. It may stop someone in their tracks, the first time. Then everytime thereafter, they will ask themselves the question and possibly preempt the debate in the first place.

In closing, being right usually feels really good to the individual “being right”. It helps the self-confidence. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, its nice to be right, isn’t it? It definitely beats being wrong! Happy, on the other hand, creates room in a team for others to be right, and it allows you to provide input without focusing on being right.

Strategic decisions, when can you trust your gut?

Strategic decisions, when can you trust your gut? – McKinsey Quarterly – Strategy – Strategic Thinking.

So, what does your obituary say? What is written on your tombstone? What did you die of?

If you are a project manager type you are pretty familiar with contingency planning, risk planning, and risk management. To compel the attention of your audience to your change priorities, try crystalizing these traditional PM concepts into the openning questions.

The above link will take you to an article regarding executive decision making by a Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, and a psychologist, Gary Klein. Interestingly, these two esteemed thinkers disagree on several aspects of decision making. One concept they agree on is “premortem” or contemplating the failure of an endeavor (project or company or decision) as a part of the decision making process. I couldn’t agree more.

As change leaders, we must keep ourselves and others grounded by contemplating the possible failure of an endeavor. One of my favorite and most frequent planning activities is to ask myself to write an obituay for the endeavor you are leading. “Here lies project X, having died of …”. This is a very powerful exercise to sharply define what really matters or the causes of death for your meeting, project, company, or even your career.

I agree with Kahneman and Klein on conducting premortem and I have found asking the “tombstone” or “obituary” question forces clarity on what really needs to change within a company, division, department, project, and even career.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.