Not just decision-making, Decision Power

A key factor in business success is often said to be good decision-making. But it's a mistake to focus too narrowly on the decision itself. There's a broader organisational ability that connects your "openings for action" with the results you want to deliver.  I call that capability Decision Power. Making a decision is only one step on the road to results, not even the first one. Before you can make a decision you must recognise there's a decision to be made. Then you need to creatively shape and evaluate the choices - the good ones aren't always immediately obvious. Of course, after the decision you do need to take action. And, having done so, you need to make sure you get the intended results.

In many businesses, these steps are separated from each other, often leading to delayed action and reduced impact. The way in which a decision is made has a huge impact on the speed and completeness of its implementation - yet this is often ignored in an attempt to make the "best" decision.

In today's complex and fast-changing world, business leaders need to move beyond trying to optimise their decision-making. They need to consider how much Decision Power their organisation has - and what their role is in building it.

What's the meaning of your business?

If there's an industry that's been through a more disruptive and challenging time over the last few years than the music business, then I don't know it.  And, within the music business, I don't think there's been a bigger distraction from the challenges at hand than the Terra Firma / Citibank saga. In light of that, it's encouraging to see what, as reported in The Guardian, EMI's chief executive, Roger Faxon, said recently to their employees about becoming owned by Citibank:

"The history, tradition and heritage of this company cannot, and will not, be erased by a change in shareholding. We are EMI not because of who owns us, but because of who we are - the home of the greatest artists and songwriters of the past, present and future."

A great example of knowing, and being able to communicate, the meaning, the real identity, of a business.  Which, despite what some leaders say, is almost never "growing shareholder value".  That's just something you have to do. Like breathing: you do it, but it's not what life's about.

In the midst of change, turmoil and distraction, a strong sense of what your business is really about - and how you personally contribute to that - is perhaps your biggest asset.   What's the meaning of your business?

The Hidden Limit to Change


Many organisations struggle to react fast enough to the ever-increasing rate and unpredictable nature of strategic change. Sometimes that's because it's not clear what needs to be done.  However, even when that's obvious, leaders face huge difficulty in getting change to happen quickly enough.

Let's Take It Up Again...

Not long ago, I facilitated a strategy session with the management team of a new business within a leading financial services company.  They had big hopes for the business, but faced questions about which specific goals to pursue and how to go after them. The team felt it was critical to get these questions resolved, so had set aside time to focus on them - and had brought us in to help. 

As we always do, we were working hard to get tangible outputs, to get clear actions nailed down. But, to my great frustration and embarrassment, there were still some fundamental questions unresolved at the end.  I expected we would form a sub-group to get together to carry things forward, meeting again perhaps later the next day or - at worst - later in the week.  Instead, the collective decision was: "let's take it up month".  

Organisational Clockspeed

Now, I'm not criticising that team: they had deeply engrained habits for operating on a monthly "clockspeed" basis. 

And, they aren't alone.  Through our work with multiple clients, we've identified clockspeed as an often-hidden constraint on the rate of change.  We've found that each organisation has a clockspeed, a heartbeat as it were, that determines how fast it can make decisions - and therefore how fast they can move.  For many businesses, the clockspeed for the top team is monthly at best.

In most large organisations this clockspeed was set years, if not decades, ago - when the pace of change was much slower.  The things that determine this clockspeed are usually invisible: at least to employees, for whom they are like water to a fish, just part of "the way things are".  As a result, leaders often don't address these factors, and therefore their change initiatives don't have the impact they desire.    

Tesco: the empire starts to crumble

Tesco. You just have to love them. Tremendously successful, innovative, with a straightforward mission well delivered. Their high-water mark is still some years away, I suspect.

But when the corporate history of their decline is written, the turning point will be seen as the sending of heir apparent Tim Mason off on a "must win" mission in the US - a mission that will inevitably fail. They are in essence taking on the entire US grocery system - without most of the advantages they have in the UK.

The amount of top team time already taken up on discussions about Fresh and Easy, and the huge investment, will shrink into insignificance as they feed ever more money, expertise, and reputation into an losing battle.

In the meantime, the widely discussed "brain drain" continues.

Social networks and the global financial meltdown

The ongoing meltdown in the financial world is leading to a massive layoffs in the investment banking world, which are widely expected to spread to the economy generally. This will result in a make or break test of the value of business / career oriented social networking sites like Linked In and Xing.

If they really do help people find their next role faster, they will become a key way large numbers of people manage their careers (with consequences for search firms and HR recruitment teams in large corporations). Even more so if they are instrumental in people finding roles that better suit their talents and interests than the ones they've been tossed out of. At the extreme, this could be the time when there is a permanent shift in the mainstream mindset, and most employment relationships take on a significantly stronger "freelance" flavour. (Ah, don't you just love that phrase "at the extreme"? As if we have any sense of what that really means any more.)

On the other hand, if they fail to deliver value, with many users finding them a waste of time (if looking) or a major distraction (if one of the lucky still-employed), then the sites are likely to face any or all of the following: slowing membership growth, abandonment of profiles (which happens today more than is generally acknowledged), and - again, at the extreme - public vilification and negative user reaction to ads.

Personally, I hope they do work. So, if you're looking and I'm on your network, feel free to contact me.

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