Do not blame the iceberg!
It was bad decision-making that sank the Titanic! 

Joseph Bruce Ismay, CEO of the White Star Line, planned in 1907 to build four transatlantic liners. They would be the biggest and most luxurious ships since his father built the RMS Oceanic. Was this decision guided by Ismay’s ego and desire to outdo his father and his rival shipping line, Cunard? Probably so, but would he have decided to put just 16 lifeboats on the RMS Titanic (instead of the original blueprinted 48), if he had consulted with his captains and engineers throughout the building process?

Furthermore, would Ismay have commissioned lower-grade steel bulkheads throughout the Titanic if he had listened more to the Harland and Wolff shipwrights? Or if Ismay had respected and listened to his captain, would he have ordered speed trials at night in poor visibility through the North Atlantic ice fields? Ismay’s decisions were made in a culture of fear, fear of losing business to the competition and under time pressure to be first among the luxury carriers.

It is the responsibility of business leaders to create a culture of hope, not fear. To involve all stakeholders in making good decisions that achieve something significant and not simply cope with or avoid change. To do this we business leaders must work systematically through these three phases of great decision-making… 

1. Define the problem precisely by seeking out all available data needed to understand and solve the problem.

Leaders cannot do this alone or even with their senior team. It requires an all-inclusive gathering of your organization’s minds. See our white paper and earlier newsletter entitled “Thriving in a Matrix World.”

  • Include all of the people who contribute to and participate in the business. Ask for their help in solving the “big” problems. “Involvement” is at the heart of our “IMPROVEment Cycle” and the process-mapping tool is an ideal route into this key discussion.
  • Share hopes and common aspirations. At your initial change meetings, ask every individual what their hopes and dreams in their work lives are. Display these prominently at every subsequent team meeting.
  • Uncover the real issues that underpin your people’s frustrations and motivations. Continually encourage creativity and lateral thinking as you guide them to think wide and deep about your problems. Stick with the process and allow neither jumping to conclusions nor partisanship around their own suggestions. Insist on “factfulness”* because good decisions are based on data and business intelligence. Use your meetings to update everybody’s mental model of your business sector. It is shocking how quickly our mindsets can become outdated and lead to flawed assumptions. 

2. Shortlist options (3 is the ideal number) and agree they are the most viable alternatives.

  • Identify ALL available proposed solutions. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Keep them on display and review them at every subsequent meeting. Ask everyone to commit to three proposals that they feel are the best solutions. (Secret ballots are a useful technique for allowing people to express their objective opinions.)
  • Consider each proposed solution in terms of what it gives you. Your most repeated question should be “How does this option contribute to those all-important hopes and dreams?” Always bear the desired outcomes in mind because they are the best criteria for judging any proposal.
  • Put everything on the table, warts and all.

3. Decide on the right things to do and understand the logic for or against all options.

    • Listen to everyone’s first thoughts on each option. Ask them each to give the pros, the cons, and any interesting ideas around each of the 3 contenders.
  • Try to improve on the chosen option. The IMPROVEment cycle is a never-ending circular-analysis technique that goes back to the beginning once you have made your great decision.
  • Develop “plan B,” evaluation and metrics. The big question at this point is “what will success look like?” And it is important and comforting to have an alternate path should your great idea be struck by a “black swan” or your personal iceberg.
  • Celebrate the success of the process. Always remember to do this so as to reinforce your organization’s cohesiveness. It says to everyone, “GREAT job! Just think what we can achieve next!

It all makes great common sense, doesn’t it? But there are major obstacles to good decision-making, some or all of which you may need to overcome as you lead your business forward. Don Maruska’s book lists the six commonest barriers to good decision-making, things such as time pressure in meetings and people digging their heels in around their preferred solutions. He also provides practical advice on overcoming this resistance to change. 

*Factfulness by Hans Rosling is a must-read book for entrepreneurs. It promotes the stress-reducing habit of holding open-minded opinions based on strong supporting truths.

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