Readers of this blog know my passion for management that possesses a bias for action. The best managers, in my view, always eschew the habit of simply talking or complaining about things, for doing things that have the potential to help make their organization better.
But the key word above is potential. Since so many of the decisions you make as a manager are acts of faith, you often have no concrete proof that your decisions will produce the desired results until you have implemented them and produced some results to evaluate. Oddly enough, in my experience, it is this follow-up assessment of decision results that is often ignored. It’s as if many managers simply assume the desired results based on their confidence in their intelligence, insight, and the rigor they exercised in deciding what to do in the first place.
You do not have to be a proponent of “chaos theory” — the notion that small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems (like human systems), thereby rendering long-term predictions generally impossible – to have experienced what I refer to as the unintended consequences of the best intended actions.
Trades men and women who build things with tools and their hands, see the results of their actions almost at once and can take whatever corrective actions that may be required. Managers, however, whose decisions may impact large numbers of individuals over time, may not know for some time what effect their decisions have had. Moreover, they will never know for certain unless they are determined to actually look.
Over the years, I have worked with numerous individual clients and executive decision-making bodies concerned with improving the quality of their decision-making process. Integral to this improvement process, I tell them, is their determination to follow the following three important steps.
First, take the time prior to implementing a decision to identify clearly observable criteria that you believe will indicate achievement of the results you seek. The list should be short and consist of criteria that are fairly easy to verify. You may be surprised by how often this relatively simple step is ignored. Such an oversight is equivalent to setting off on a trip having no clear idea about your destination; so how will you know when you arrive? While this approach may appeal to some as ideal for a totally relaxing vacation, it is no way to make decisions that will impact the work life of your subordinates.
Second, establish a date specific for following up and evaluating the decision based on your criteria. Then, on that date, do it. Without a follow-up scheduled, these post-decision evaluations – despite the best initial intentions – simply often never happen.
Third, be prepared to make adjustments if you find the results of your decisions to be less than satisfactory. This means reminding yourself frequently of the phenomena of unintended consequences and of the fact that problems leading to decisions are often misread to begin with.
The third of these steps often proves the most difficult for both individual and group decision-makers. Making tweaks, shifting course, or worse, having to reverse course, represents acknowledging a mistake, an oversight, or a misreading of things. It seems even worse, if others around you warned in advance that they did not think your decision would work.
But the best managers, generally endowed with maturity and experience, understand that facing things that did not exactly work out as planned, is the nature of management decision-making and an opportunity to make the adjustments that keep you moving forward. They understand that failing, fast frequently as Tom Peters preaches, equals organizational dynamism and creative growth, and that the do-fix-do-fix-do-fix approach to decision-making, keeps your bias for action constantly alive.