We’re discussing this idea of the Role of Leadership in Decision Making on Tuesday, March 29th, at 8:00PM Eastern, 5:00PM Pacific, on Twitter at #LeadershipChat – join the discussion!
I interviewed over 70 business leaders – CEO’s, founders and others in positions to make things happen and motivate effort – in Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry, and the discussion often turned to the role of leadership.
This, as you can imagine, was a widely ranging discussion. The role of a leader according to a Fortune 500 CEO is different than the role of a start-up founder. But when we look at how speed cultures come about – and I devote a chapter of Killing Giants to this topic – company size is no longer the chief variable.
When we think of the role a leader plays in making decisions, I see the three main legs of the stool as input, alignment and execution. Here’s what three of my Giant Killers had to say about this.
Input and Getting the Opinions on the Table.
Mike Cassidy, founder of search engine Direct Hit (acquired by Ask Jeeves for $540 million), described the first role of a leader when I asked him how he’d created a culture that could produce so much so fast.
“The very first day when the company forms and we sit down together, I tell people, here’s my philosophy: Whenever we have a meeting to debate something I want everyone to scream and say, ‘Mike, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and here’s why.’ You have to have data and facts but be totally frank and direct about why something’s stupid. But at the end of the meeting when we’ve made a decision, I want everyone to come together and say, ‘Fifteen minutes ago I hated it, but now I see a way to make it better,’ and never look back and say ‘I told you so.’ You can never have that and have a high-performance team.”
Alignment and Ending the Internal Debate.
Scott Wilder, GM of online communities at Intuit (now at Edelman), picks up right where Mike Cassidy left off on the subject of getting people on the same page. Scott’s unique spin on the subject was how his then-employer, Intuit, institutionalized the practice of ending the internal debate with facts, not feelings. “We’d end the debate by having users vote on features or bring the users in and consider them an extension of the team. We tell users that we have a limited amount of time and dollars, so you tell us where we should focus our efforts.”
Intuit is a company known for creating fast “pre-beta” products that are quickly hammered into shape by market input and then re-launched in final form. Intuit is a culture known for speed and “facts not feelings” and Scott’s former role was at the forefront of this movement.
Execution and the Role of the CEO.
Damien Lamendola, CEO of prescription benefits management provider Welldyne, spoke to me about how his role as CEO defined the speed of the company. “I move back and forth between the daily operations up to the strategic level across the entire operation,” he explained. “That’s probably the number one factor in making us fast. I see a lot of companies where the CEO is detached and not involved with the day-to-day operations. I’m involved. We’re a two hundred million dollar operation.”
If you read Larry Bossidy’s and Ram Charan’s excellent book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, you’ll see this same philosophy of an involved “player/coach” that understands the details and can champion your cause with real intent. There’s a stark contrast to the aloof “boss” who leaves all details to others. The differences don’t stop with style – they often extend into results, morale and employee turnover.
What do you do with these ideas?
- How can you instill a “speed culture” in your organization today? How would you start implementing a “facts not feelings” approach to decision making?
- How can you “end the internal debate” faster – while still giving people the empowerment and the inclusion they need? This isn’t a case of shutting people down – it’s a question of cutting the fat from the decision making process. What blocks to this strategy would you anticipate?
- How can you speed up your decision making and overall execution by simply moving information and input faster throughout the system?
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Input, alignment and execution – to me, the three critical pieces of decision making and disciplines that the CEO, or any leader, must guide and champion.
What would you add to this list?
[…] 29 – Guest Author Stephen Denny (Decision-making) – preparatory post from […]
Create the culture through openness, insight, open collaboration where just the right amount of information is shared to inform open innovation, Have a feedback loop that acts in real time with communication mechanisms that stop communication blocks. Open door policy from the Janitor to the Deputy Chief Exec. everybody has an insight they can share. It just needs to be shared in a timely manner. Culture lives and breathes and is disseminated through a process of meaning and vision. That’s a Leaders job to build speed through creating a culture where speed becomes second nature and the accepted way of doing things “around here”
Having the wrong people in the wrong job
Not understanding the unique talents of each team member who contributes and what they bring to the debate.
Understanding that people are emotional. Irrespective of whether they claim to be able detach themselves emotionally.
Knowing when debate and communication has reached the point where it is not constructive
Appreciating to make the right decisions perspective, insight and knowing what’s driving market forces reveals what elements of product iteration are the most important to sustain and increase profit and market share.
Schedule just enough time
Reduce meetings unless their are pressing issues that can only be discussed through open participation of all involved.
Focus on cutting lead times for product development to optimum levels
Use the new tools available and adopt them early
Make people understand speed of group innovation is the key to successful market penetration not the amount of information.
Kenny: I spoke to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur last night who took his company from 10 people to over 3,000 – he said that towards the end (before the exit), it took them six months’ worth of 2 meetings a week with a team of dozens to make one necessary decision. All he wanted to do, he said, was shave off 2 engineers and validate the idea – but he couldn’t. Second, as companies go through rapid growth, their staffing suffers – they’re no longer hand-picked, but mass acquired – and thus, the confidence (and wisdom) of pushing decision-making downwards declines. As companies grow, I find that they become more bureaucratic – and slow – because of these two points. There’s a plus and a minus to having all doors open all the time!
Yes. Stephen, definitely agree with your point. I was not suggesting we do have all the doors open all the time. We would never get anything done if that was the case. I do think that is another key aspect of leadership, Judgement, knowing when to stop talking and make decisions. I think what you touch on is a critical point. Scaling a business. As a company grows communication, and the ability to react fast to market demands becomes even more elusive. In the early days it is easier to make decisions because the business is small and lines of communication are short. All businesses who grow go through the same cycles. I wish I had the solution but ultimately I think Great Leaders learn how to manage the difficulties and develop strategies and tactics to limit the downside. I don’t think there is a perfect remedy so I completely understand the frustrations and how difficult it must be to maintain a balance for those who Lead large companies successfully.