Just as a stone hitting the water causes ripples, strategic decisions cause ripples in an organizational culture. I thought about that Monday night as my husband audibly gasped when Alabama brought in a true freshman quarterback to start the half. Really? The starting quarterback is 25-2. He’s proven himself. But yet the leader chose to throw a rather large stone into the pond.
Understanding the magnitude of the ripples and where they flow allows strong leaders to ensure the team and culture are prepared for the after effects of the decision. It might mean creating some safety nets for potential issues the decision may cause. Or, it could simply mean stepping up communication to ensure the team is prepared to address the next decisions coming their way. It is the responsibility of a leader to hone their decision-making skills to include addressing the potential of ripples.
Good leaders focus on making strong, well informed decisions that move the team in the direction to succeed with goals and objectives. Great leaders understand that current decisions always have ripples and work ahead of them by asking themselves these questions. Maybe that’s why Nick Saban has won 6 national championships.
- What things will be influenced or changed by the decision? Is it the resources, culture, or maybe the manufacturing flexibility?
- Develop a plan to address the challenges that will soon be coming so that the ripples do not overtake the team
- What additional areas need attention to ensure the decision builds strength for the group?
- Envision what things will look like in 6 months based on the decision. Start now to build the resources needed.
- What other other groups or functions will be touched by the decision? Will their work load change or the actual task change? Will there be any “unintended consequences”?
- Help them prepare so that the changes flow seamlessly.
Embrace the ripples and use them to your advantage. Don’t let them overtake and dampen your team. Hey, it worked in Monday night’s game.
Strong decisions are based on good (and complete) information.
Early in my career, people would complain at the water cooler that Sr. Leaders were making all the wrong decisions. When I brought this up to my mentor, she told me that Sr. Leaders can only make decisions based on what they were told. She said it was our job, no, it was our responsibility to filter out the minutia and present the information in a way that strong decisions can be made.
Over the last 30 years, I have learned that 99% of the time people don’t hide the necessary information but rather the information they have access to falls into one of three buckets;
Bucket 1 – Prioritizing which information is most important to share
Everyone, from the front line worker to the CEO, must work on providing the right information at the right time for decisions to be made. My mentor used to tell me that all information isn’t equal yet all information can be useful. Some information while good, may not be necessary to make a decision. You have to decide which is relevant to pass on.
And yet, sometimes we provide the right information and the decision still doesn’t go as we planned or in our favor. If that’s ever happened to you, you may want to consider revisiting the data set and ask yourself the context you provided the information. Did you select the right data set? How can you improve your presentation of the facts for next time? Sometimes the data gets lost in the messaging.
Bucket 2 – Summarizing the details into an actionable story
What happens when you have presented the right information and no decision is made? In those instances it’s possible that your “ask” was lost or maybe you didn’t really ask for a decision. Leadership may not know you need a decision. A best practice is stating the decision needed with options/recommendations.
Sometimes simply asking for a decision may be what is needed. Remember, you’re living in your details whereas your boss is mired in theirs – they aren’t necessarily the same. Case in point, a CEO at an automotive company I reported to had his day broken into 15 minute segments. When I went to see him I kept my story to the essentials and focused on the ask/action/or result of our conversation. If he required more details, he’d ask. Which leads me to my last point.
Bucket 3 – Understanding what information is needed for a decision to be made
How many times have you watched a presentation meander on with no point in sight? I once knew a lead engineer who’d start a meeting by telling each presenter, “Start with the last sentence first” because he wanted to know whodunit. He wanted to read the last chapter of the book and know if the Butler was really innocent?
In those instances when you find yourself the subject matter expert in a subject and everyone is looking at you for the data. Take the time to think through the decision tree (maybe even flowchart it) for your boss. Present the options (good and/or bad) and results (good and/or bad). This will speed up getting a well vetted decision. Don’t get tripped up in arcane information but have it handy if the decision maker(s) need it.
In summary, everyone absorbs information differently: pictures, verbal, written. Find what works best for your audience and present accordingly. We are all part of the information flow that drives decisions. Think about how you can do your part to ensure the right decisions are made at the right time.
These two make decisions, colorful. Photo used w/permission – http://www.gregoryksteward.com
Would everything be so much simpler if there were no grey or no alternative opinions/options — only right/wrong, true/false? I would argue – no.
A while ago my husband and I went to the George Bernard Shaw festival in Niagara on the Lake, Canada. One of the plays had three acts. In Act One the characters had several options to choose from. In Act Two you saw the ramifications of their as yet unmade choices. In Act Three you saw the choices and decisions being made. You knew what the outcomes were going to be. I had to physically restrain my husband from marching onto stage to tell them not to choose X or Y.
If we had a crystal ball to see the future, we could always be assured to make the right decisions at the right time. But, we can’t see the future even though my husband claims to have a friend named Doc Brown who owns a DeLorean. Even Shakespeare wrote a play about it. (Macbeth).
Working with only the knowledge of the present, there are usually alternate right “hows” (or paths) to get to a goal. There are also different goals rooted in different opinions driven by different assumptions.
The more the uncertainty, the more there is room for grey. Let me offer a few suggestions on how to keep your head in the game when things are not so black and white:
1. Focus on the objectives.
You may not be able to overcome the grey or other people’s decisions that may impede you – but you can and must go back to the basic objectives needed to achieve excellence. In a way, you can reset your future timeline. Use that as your foundation to move forward.
2. Take the higher ground.
Grey areas can drive frustration within teams. Be professional by focusing on the actions not the people. Don’t let others drive your attitude. You own your own attitude.
3. Look for the next right decision.
Trying to do the next right thing is good, yet sometimes it doesn’t deliver what you wanted. But as those great philosophers the Rolling Stones once said, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you find
you get what you need.” If what you tried didn’t work, try something else. It is all about moving forward. One step at a time.
4. Conspiracy theories don’t help.
Making up “why something is the way it is” doesn’t help people to focus on finding a way to make things work better. When I don’t understand something, I trust my senior leadership. Knowing they aren’t perfect they are privy to more information than I have. Theirs is a bigger picture, making it harder for me to judge their actions. I don’t know what they know.
5. Remember your manners.
Civility is not optional. We learned this in pre-school… Please. Thank you. Excuse me. These phrases never go out of style. Treat others as you want to be treated. Clean up after yourself. Load paper in the copier just because. Smile more. When it’s stressful out there, a little civility allows everyone to keep their head about them.
Close up detail of “Stained Glass in Strassbourg” Painting by Jay Holobach
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
Isaac Asimov, quoted in the Highland County, Ohio, Times-Gazette
We all have assumptions. Whether in our personal lives or work lives, we can’t function without assumptions. The foundation of our decisions is a mix of fact and assumptions. Assumptions are neither a good or bad. They are not bad as they speed up our ability to react, they allow us to work when there are no complete answers, they help us process the complex. They also are not strictly a good thing. They can overly taint reality, they can make facts less understandable, they can cloud our vision when assumptions are communicated as facts.
Understand clearly what your assumptions are and question them every once in a while. Make sure you own them, that they do not own you. You will make better decisions if you do.