Decision-Making at Warp SpeedBy Frank Wander
Decision-Making at Warp Speed
By S. A. Schulz and Frank Wander
Cloud is all the rage. You can't open an IT trade publication—or many others for that matter—without seeing an article or opinion piece about cloud technologies. The funny thing about clouds is that they look like they're moving ever so slowly. In fact, in unison, they are moving at a deceptively fast pace. According to the Newton Department of Energy website, clouds move with the environmental winds—sometimes at speeds of 100 mph.
We can learn a thing or two from our cumulus friends because we have arrived at a true inflection point. "Corporate Infrastructure as a Service" (network, computing, storage, facilities and corporate systems like HRIS) means those aspects of business that are a competitive necessity (the things required to run the business, versus grow the business) will be available as a service. What were once considered barriers to entry for building a business, have now become an on-ramp. Consequently, companies with legacy infrastructures must transform themselves. And just like those clouds that move with the jet stream, companies need to move quickly with the changing winds. Organizational velocity has to increase, or companies will slowly fade into the vapor of the atmosphere as new and transformed competitors outcompete them.
This means corporations must get better at making quicker pivots, which means one's decision speed is critical. To achieve faster decision-making, companies must understand what behaviors induce speed, and which ones slow it down. They must have a formal process to drive behavioral change and track progress But speed absent quality is certain disaster. Anyone can make quick decisions without much thought. Creating an environment where thoughtful decisions are made is a key consideration that must be woven into the behavioral model.
Five common beliefs may be slowing down your company's decision-making ability:
1. A decision is a one-step process. To reach the desired outcome, many decisions actually require two decisions: one where the decision owner takes a stand and declares something; the other where the person they depend upon decides to take action. This is the stage where it gets tricky. If the person didn’t feel he or she had input into how work gets done, they’re apt to resist it. And then the execution of that decision falls apart. This is why so many change efforts fail, because two decisions are required, and many participants see it as just one.
2. A trusted relationship is a "nice to have." Getting two or more people to make a decision requires an open, honest discussion, where each party sincerely engages the other or others. This process can happen quickly, and even informally, if the parties have a strong relationship. When trust exists, the two parties engage in a sincere dialogue and get aligned, even if the parties agree to disagree. But without healthy relationships, it is much tougher for parties to reach a mutually agreeable decision because trust has not been earned. Communication is, therefore, more guarded, as the two parties try to discern if a hidden agenda exists. Decision-making speed is, therefore, an outcome of a healthy organization, and the velocity at which your organization moves is a direct reflection of your culture and the quality of the relationships it has fostered.
3. Elephants make things more difficult. Input is important to push decisions toward execution. Sometimes this input is easy to give and to receive—like when it's exactly in line with your way of thinking. But sometimes it's not. In these situations, we call this "the elephant in the room" because it’s uncomfortable. Like an elephant, it's big, scary and intimidating, which causes most people to remain silent. Why is acknowledging the elephant in the room so important to decision making? Because without it being acknowledged and discussed, you don't properly weigh the risks and benefits of moving forward. No one person sees everything, so the collective viewpoint, whether divergent or in synch, is imperative to assure the decision is well thought out.
Decision-Making at Warp Speed
4. Consensus decision-making is best. The ease with which people acknowledge the elephant in the room is a reflection of your culture. Making a decision isn’t about everyone agreeing. It's about everyone aligning. It's about properly weighing the risks and benefits and then taking an educated stand. In a culture where workers are open to others' opinions, where transparency is valued, and where individuals feel accepted for who they are, there is more willingness to address the elephant. Getting uncomfortable is important for organizational transformation. Smart companies foster an environment that make the uncomfortable comfortable.
5. Processes are aligned with the decision—and approval must be swift. Once decision-making has sped up, review your processes to ensure they aren’t hampering swift execution. To start, eliminate all unnecessary approvals (i.e., rubber stamps). An easy way to find out if you've become a rubber stamp factory is to track rejections. If you have zero rejections in a step, consider eliminating it. Also, when higher-level authorization is required, approval must be swift. If approval is slow, cynicism builds as workers realize those on top say they want speed and agility, but do not act that way themselves. Moreover, executive behavior is the strongest form of communication. Slow approvals, therefore, send an unambiguous message to the organization: The work is not a priority.
Now let's return to the idea that a decision is actually about two decisions. Rowing together is an analogy often used when people talk about getting behind decisions. Many people confuse getting behind something with agreeing with it. They are not always synonymous.
Rowing is essential for progress because it takes something out of ideation (like a strategy) and gives it legs (execution) where you can begin seeing results. The more you hem and haw about your support for a decision, the more likely it is that you won’t execute on a stated strategy, which doesn’t benefit anyone. Galvanized support is very powerful and will make you more competitive because your entire organization is focused on executing.
Ultimately, behavior counts. Your decision speed is a reflection of your culture, and the behavioral norms that may have served you well at one point in the past, may not be serving your needs today. Take time to look in the organizational mirror and then take even more time to reflect upon what you see.
About the Authors
S. A. Schulz has led teams in the IT industry for over 20 years. She focuses on driving peak performance through cultural transformation, coaching, collaboration and decision making in line with strategic outcomes.
Frank Wander, is the founder and CEO of PeopleProductive (peopleproductive.com), and author of Transforming IT Culture, How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms (Wiley, 2013).
To read Frank's previous CIO Insight article, "Unlocking Your Employees' Creativity," click here.