Posts Taged ego

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 29 :: Governance :: Decision Making

Over the course of a day we make hundreds of decisions. Many, in the great scheme of things, are inconsequential – blue shirt or yellow shirt, mustard or mayo, checkout aisle 6 or 11. However, when we’re at work, some of our decisions might have a bit more impact – this new region or that new region or both, this new employee or that new employee, abandon this product or invest a bunch of money into marketing it for another quarter or two. These types of decisions affect the lives of people, the trajectory of our company and the amount of money we make or lose in upcoming quarters.

So what if we could get better at decision making? Let’s agree up front that every decision carries risk. We can’t “good decision” our way out of every fork in the road and remove risk. Most of us fall victim to, what those who study decision-making call, “resulting”. We believe if we get good results, we made a good decision. If we get bad results, we made a bad decision. Let me illustrate. The odds of winning on any given number at the roulette table are 1 in 37. If you walk up to the table, place your chips on 5 and the little ball goes into the 5 on the wheel, you might believe you made a good decision. In reality, you made a bad decision (the math was against you) but got a good result. Conversely, if you hire a salesperson with experience in your industry, stellar credentials, a history of strong sales and equip them with every resource they need to sell your product and they fail miserably, you more than likely made a good decision, but got a bad result. Just one of the foibles that we, as humans, struggle with as we evaluate our decisions.

So how do we up our decision-making game? In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, I encourage you to spend your thirty-minute exercise piecing together a decision-making framework that you’ll use when your organization is faced with a decision. I’ll give you some thought starters and you can grab what works for you and add your own.

  • What empirical data can we bring to bear on the decision? It’s easy to fall in love with people, products, places and processes. Can we put our hands on data that will give us objective information – sales numbers, number of defects, number of returns, sales by location, sales by hour, sales by salesperson, production per assembly line, bounce rate for the landing page.
  • How can I remove my ego from the decision? It’s tough to divorce yourself from a person or project that you’ve poured yourself into. In reality, you are not what you do. You still have worth and you’re still smart, even if the object of your affection is looking questionable. Recognize this for yourself and recognize that others in the organization will have similar feelings towards the people and things they’ve invested in. Step away – and help them step away. Two more things on ego. First, we love our own ideas and struggle to see how they might have a couple of holes. Second, we love information (both empirical and anecdotal) that supports our position and tend to discount information that opposes our position. Be on guard against both of these things.
  • Enlist the collective genius of the people most affected by the decision. If I could list the most frequent management screw-ups, this would be close to the top – people not familiar with the intimate details of the work, trying to improve the work. In reality, the people who do the work are most qualified to improve it. Get input from employees, customers, and vendors – whoever can help you assemble the largest body of knowledge on the subject about which you are making a decision. One important thing – an outside perspective does help because people are occasionally so blinded by the forest, they can’t see the trees. But I’d err on the side of getting lots of input from those in the know.
  • Get help from someone who’s made similar decisions. The Israelite King Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” True when he wrote it 3000 years ago. Still true now. Find someone who’s faced a similar situation and pick their brain.
  • Propel your self forward and look back. As much as you can, transport yourself to the end of every fork in the road (all the possible decision options) and look backward. Things might seem much clearer – after all, hindsight is 20/20. What would have to go right to get here? What could go wrong on the way to here? Can I live with the consequences of the things that might go wrong? What are the probabilities for each of these things going right or wrong? Conduct a pre-mortem – in your head, jump to the end of the decision, assume it failed miserably then ask, “What did we screw up that caused this?”
  • Would you put money on this? I wish I could claim credit for this idea, but it comes from Annie Duke’s brilliant book, Thinking in Bets. She encourages her readers to ask themselves, “would I bet on this?” This moves the discussion from theoretical to financial. Before we bet on something, we contemplate the probability (run or pass, cover the spread or not cover the spread). Our emotions (we love our team and hate the other team) are eclipsed by the reality of what could happen to our wallet.
  • Find a contrarian. Seek out someone to poke holes in the decision you’re narrowing in on. They can be inside or outside the organization. Encourage them to pick it apart personnel-wise, strategically, operationally, and financially.
  • Festina lente. Caesar Augustus adopted this motto – Make haste, slowly. Make decisions quickly but deliberately. Don’t fall victim to paralysis by analysis, but don’t fire from the hip. Good decision-making is thoughtful and complete but with a bias for action.

 

Following these steps, or any others for that matter, won’t result in perfect decision-making. There’s no such thing. We’ll still be duped by the poor decisions that have good results (thinking they were good decisions), puzzled by the good decisions that have bad results and feel smug about the good decisions that yield good results. Our best hope is that we optimize our methodology.

The Best Methodology for Aligning your Team Probably Surfaced in 1982.

Commander’s Intent first appeared in the US Army Field Manual 100-5, Operations in 1982. However, it wasn’t original with them. It was borrowed from the Germans who developed it as they fought Napoleon during the French Revolution. The Germans called it Aftragstaktik.

So, what does this 225 year-old methodology have to do with your organization in 2019? Traditionally, military operations were centrally controlled. High ranking officers would diligently plan troop movements and equipment deployments, carefully orchestrating every skirmish. But, when the first bullet was fired, the plan immediately became outdated. Enemies didn’t respond as anticipated, equipment malfunctioned, soldiers were wounded or killed and couldn’t execute the carefully conceived plans. At that point, troops up and down the chain of command were paralyzed or limited in their ability to respond because they only had the original plan and when it became impractical or impossible to execute, they had to improvise which may or may not have been in the best interest of the mission or in the best interest of their fellow soldiers.

Enter Commander’s Intent. Commander’s Intent succinctly describes what constitutes success for the operation – the final desired end state. At the outset of a mission, the ranking officer would describe to a small group of subordinates the desired end game of a mission. The officer would also define guardrails for these subordinates and give them authority to make decisions within the bounds of these guardrails all pointing towards the successful completion of the mission. These subordinates would then pass the strategic intent of the mission to their small group of subordinates and define for them a more narrow set of guardrails between which they could make independent decisions all while pushing towards the successful completion of the mission. This repeated until the lowest ranking soldier in the fight understood the Commander’s Intent. With the Commander’s Intent well in hand and the span of control understood, officers and soldiers up and down the chain of command could more easily respond to rapidly changing conditions on the battlefield and, with their understanding of the end game, make adjustments that took into account new realities and pushed towards the successful completion of the mission. Paralysis and indecision were replaced by real-time intelligence gathering and mission-appropriate “counter-punching”.

These are probably obvious, but there are a few key ingredients in this process and everyone involved must buy in –

  • Everybody must be crystal-clear on the end game (i.e. the Commander’s Intent). It is the responsibility of superiors to explain it simply and fully and to spell out the “why” behind it. It is the responsibility of subordinates to keep asking questions until they get it and the rationale behind it. Nothing less than full understanding up and down the chain of command will do.
  • Everybody must understand their span of responsibility. The guardrails must be clear so that everyone knows what they control for themselves and their subordinates.
  • This crystal-clear delineation of responsibility must be accompanied by trust. Because subordinates have clear visibility into the thinking of superiors they can see the strategic value of the mission. Because superiors have clearly defined the outcomes and span of control, they can trust the field-level decision making of subordinates knowing they will be aligned with fulfilling the Commander’s Intent.

The application in your office, factory or farm is apparent now, but let me make one more important point. To make this work, ego must be put in check. Will every downstream decision be perfect? Doubtful. Will there be an expensive mistake from time to time? Probably. But the growth in your team and the improvement in dynamic decision-making skills in your organization will more than make up for it. This is the methodology for building agility in your organization. Your challenge as the boss is to relinquish autocratic control. To make this work, you must embrace your responsibilities as leader, coach and teacher.