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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Ready to Solve a Problem? You Need to Think Before You Leap!

There is a task for me each week and that is to discover and develop a non-repetitive theme for the blog which is now very close to reaching its third birthday, rather to my surprise.

These themes turn up in many ways, sometimes from Vistage speakers, sometimes during a one-to-one with a member and frequently picked up from hearing a phrase or two on Radio 4 or the World Service.

I hope that Vistage speaker, Mike Wilkinson, will forgive for using an quote of his, almost a throw away, which he mentioned  during his excellent session with my group this month, as follows:

· “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice”

In the medical world this is self-evident, and it struck a chord with me if we re-define it in a business sense as follows:

· “Decision making without prior analysis is at best foolhardy and sometimes dangerous”

The fact is that we often expect our leaders to be quick thinking, instinctive and decisive which is fine in a general sense but it does tend to lead to the “shoot from the hip” syndrome.

In certain cases that can be effective and the right thing to do but at least a modicum of thought beforehand can be even more effective.  Coming from an engineering background and hence, allegedly, having   an analytical bent, I do like to see some analysis of a problem before making a decision.

There is a long standing and very good technique called the Decision Tree which involves stating the issue on which a decision is required, then determining the options available.  Each option is then analysed as to people requirements, resources available, time for the solution, any downside issues and finally, the costs of implementation.

This allows a very considered decision to be made, not necessarily the best one it must be said, but definitely considered.

Perhaps prior research has been taken to an extent which is becoming almost intrusive in everyone’s lives.  For example, the collection of buying habit data by the major retailers, vast amounts of market research, focus groups and so on, are all directed towards making decisions to increase business and importantly, profitability.

Autocratic and authoritarian leadership is most often based on the ability to make quick decisions and very laudable that can be.

However, it does rely on the ability of one person to look at an issue, to think about it (we hope) and then go ahead often without any consideration of the effect that it may have on the business and the people in it.

Of course, consensual decision making is slower but it does involve people in the business which is desirable in terms of helping the team through the process of change.  In the end, however, it is more often than not the leader’s decision as to the way forward but at least having heard all the thoughts of the team.

The use of a non-executive Director on the board can be a valuable addition to the team, bringing with it n external view which is not encumbered by day to day pressures, and certainly membership of a peer group such as Vistage helps enormously in testing and perfecting decision making.

If not, we are back to the Ready, Fire, Aim method frequently followed by a loud cry of “Oh, dear me” or similar.
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