The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

Every day, each employee you supervise makes hundred decisions to order to resolve problems and complete tasks. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition becomes the mastery that’s necessary to navigate the daily work. Then there are those unexpected obstacles that can disrupt your momentum. We all fear making a wrong decision at times, even though we pretty much knew what to react. Most of us possess the confidence move on to a successful solution.

Some people, however, struggle to adapt. Some of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence to solve problems and make decisions. So, how can you help these individuals develop this confidence? The effort comes down to one word — empower.

The best performers in any work environment exude confidence. They fully believe they are capable of dealing with whatever issue comes up. What does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. This means examining the elements of a situation, evaluating what needs to be accomplished and determining the necessary steps. The ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces discomfort. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, people who feel empowered possess the confidence to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the perfect decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with an alternative.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. The best decision-makers take the initiative without asking for permission. They examine the environment for what needs to be done. They think three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of perspective in situations that others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More of society is focusing on blame these days when something goes wrong. As a result, more people hesitate before making decisions They don’t want to suffer embarrassment if a decision goes wrong. In the process, they seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.  So, how can you help people feel empowered? Here are three tactics to try:

Begin by providing clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain the instructions back to you. While they’ll get most of it right, you’ll probably find gaps in their understanding. Go back and review what they missed. Reinforce the concept with a bit of practical application. This encourages them to ask questions. Remember, asking “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” lets them know that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Sometimes, we delegate responsibility and just assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so forth. Then we become frustrated when they ask lots of questions. Instead, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions, at least initially. You might say something like, “You’re probably going to feel a little uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of the decisions where they may hesitate. Show them the process for resolving them. If you have worked this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. Create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re working independently.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is a natural urge to jump in when you see someone about to make a mistake. Resist that temptation. If they begin to believe that someone will save them every time something is about to go wrong, they will become fearful of acting or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsing and reinforcement are critical. Some people will embrace these principles right away. Others will take more time. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Tell them that you understand their apprehension. Everybody’s been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work with them on each of the processes they need to master. A good way to do this is by posing situations and case studies, based on their experiences and your experiences.
  • Observe as they start to implement. Check in periodically, but be careful not to make the decision. It is a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have built the confidence to act on their own.

When the people around you feel empowered, they will make smarter decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

 

Managing a Boss Who Makes YOUR Decisions

Casey, a young colleague of mine, complained recently that her supervisor continually makes decisions about issues he has delegated to her. This is includes such things as spending her budget and forgetting to tell her and making commitments on her time and letting her know after it’s already be scheduled.

Since this supervisor held her position immediately before being promoted, he knows it inside and out. As a result, it is second nature for him to simply act, rather than taking the time to nurture her development. Besides, many colleagues still think of him as being in that role. So, they still go to him with their issues. Being a new professional, she reasonably assumed that he would act in a logical manner. If he delegated a task, shouldn’t he let her complete it? Unfortunately, that is not happening in this case.

Casey is getting an uncomfortable dose of reality about one of the vagaries of management – the boss who doesn’t let go. This type of scenario is not confined to entry-level jobs, of course. It can happen at all levels. It just gets more nuanced further up within the organization.

Sadly, I’ve heard this story too many times. The incidence of less-than-consistent supervision pervades lots of organizations. As a result, we sometimes break the spirit of enthusiastic newcomers. If this happens enough, these emerging contributors develop a jaded sense about supervision in general. Over time, this becomes very costly if not addressed through effective management training and coaching.

Like you, I feel for Casey. We have all had to navigate at least one manager and their inconsistent ways. So, here’s what I suggested. See if you agree.

Begin by taking a breath. Casey needs to be careful not to let her frustration overtake her perspective. No one likes to have their authority undercut or circumvented, especially when it comes to scheduling and budget. That said, this is an evolving relationship. Since her supervisor held her position just prior to being promoted, she needs to accept that there will be difficulties like this until they reach an understanding about boundaries.

Have some empathy. Since he was recently promoted from her position, this makes him a new supervisor. As much as she is stretching to learn her position, he is stretching to learn how to be a boss. Those new to supervision sometimes lapse back into doing the job they were comfortable with. Why? Because it provides a sense of comfort and security. Unfortunately, it also gets in the way of establishing the parameters necessary for a healthy supervisory relationship. If Casey is patient, much of this issue will probably subside as her boss gets busy with his new responsibilities.

Define the specific issues needing to be resolved. Casey will need to prioritize her concerns. She’s not going to be able to “fix” her supervisor. These issues are best handled one at a time. If she marches into his office with a list of concerns, it won’t go well. She needs to choose her battles. Which is more important right now, for instance, control over her personal schedule or control over her budget? If she is observant, by the way, she can learn about how to manipulate the budget, something she probably has little experience with.

Develop an approach that is supervisor-centered. While Casey is the one with the issues, she is asking her supervisor to change his ways. This is not something easily accomplished. We are all a product of our habits and routines. She’s going to have to convince him that these changes will be for his own good. It will save him time. It will reduce his heartburn. It will provide opportunities for him to establish better relationships with the other people he supervises. It will also make him look good when his boss sees that Casey is thriving in her job independently.

Keep your eye on the bigger picture. This is the first of what will be many supervisory relationships Casey will experience. Each one is a learning experience. Patience can be in short supply among new professionals anxious to make a difference. The best leaders and decision-makers discover that preparing well, anticipating others moves, and supporting their bosses priorities is the best way to navigate organizational culture and advance their own careers. Casey can either embrace this or resist it. Hopefully, she will embrace it.

What do you think? Is my advice on target? What would you add? What would you modify? I, and she, would like to know. Comment on the post or e-mail me at bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

Managing Decision Fatigue: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions

You probably know the feeling – it’s mid-afternoon and you’re just tired of thinking. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a meeting and you’re beginning to zone out. Perhaps you’re in the sixth virtual conversation of the day and you’re paying more attention to everyone’s background than you are to the decisions being discussed. Maybe you’re in the supermarket staring at the toothpaste and wondering why all these choices are necessary.

Decision fatigue has become the new drain on today’s daily performance. Truth is, decision fatigue has always been around because it is the result of what happens when glucose levels in the brain become depleted. But in recent years, the impact of this mental drain has become so much more intense because of the number of decisions we are compelled to make every waking minute.

Can you can you successfully manage the decision fatigue draining your energy and impairing your thinking?  Yes! To do so, however, it helps to examine both the sources and symptoms first. Only then can we discuss solutions. Allow me to do so using a three-step framework: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions.

The Sources of Decision Fatigue

Every time you make a decision, your brain consumes a bit of the blood glucose (sugar energy) produced by the body from the foods you eat. Deciding whether to turn left or right in the parking lot consumes little glucose. Analyzing data and producing a report consumes a lot more. This is why you feel drained after doing so. It’s also why you shouldn’t make significant purchasing decisions after focusing on an important task. Your brain won’t have the glucose energy to maintain proper focus to make a disciplined choice. The sources of decision fatigue fall into five categories:

First, there is work, which is composed of all the decisions you make during the day. This includes everything from significant choices to nuisance decisions such as navigating phone menus, clicking out of browser pop-ups, declining “convenience” options built into software applications and endless updates that developers promise will improve our user experience. (yeah, right!) On top of this, the pace of work, for many, has become more pressure-filled because of our 24/7/365 society. The same is true because of globalization and the endless demands for instant outcomes. Mix in the general competition for attention from social media and other forms of digital messaging and the brain has trouble processing this constant procession of decisions, both large and small.

Second, there are consumer sources. This consists of everything you buy, from food and personal care products to Netflix packages, apparel, big screen TVs and the car or truck you drive. Frankly, it’s business’ job to sell you the products and separate you from your money. The number of ways they attempt to do this, however, has exploded over the past few years. Research indicates that consumers don’t like too many choices, but it also shows people buy more when they’re confused. This is why your head hurts when attempting to purchase complex items like a cable subscription.

Third, there is social media. This includes all the platforms most of us use daily to connect with each other and keep up on what they have to say. These applications have become such an integral part of life for so many, they deserve their own category. Millions have been invested in making sure that users remain continually engaged, whether it is the never-ending scroll feature or the continual pop-ups that offer assistance, advertisements or the diversions we have come to know as click-bait. Add to this a design that ensures you will never see the same page display a second time, and these companies have created billions of users afraid to close the app. Each one of these sessions, of course, includes hundreds of decisions about what to read, what to click, and how to respond.

Fourth, there is news and entertainment. These have blended together so much that they really fall into the same category. As much as entertainment should be a source of relaxation, research has shown that the overwhelming number of choices confuses viewers resulting a sort of mental surrender for many. When it comes to news, it is important to remember that CNN, FOX, print media and the others are NOT in the business of keeping us informed. They are in the business of making money. Hence, the long-time industry motto, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news, polarization and stories with manipulated narratives stress readers and viewers resulting in decision fatigue. At the same time, there is a sense of being left out if you don’t keep up.

Finally, there’s You and Others, or relationships. This category includes family, friends, colleagues and everyone else with whom you relate on a regular basis. Each of these relationships requires its own set of decisions based on how you interact, along with past experience. Each one of these decisions requires the brain to consider dozens of factors, consuming boatloads of glucose, especially for those relationships you find more challenging. Just as a large report or presentation can consume a lot of sugar energy, the same is true with the lengthy or intense conversations you have with one or more people over a beer. At the end, you feel tired of thinking because your brain has had to pay attention while developing what to say in response, based on your past experience with these individuals.

As mentioned before, many of these decisions have been a part of life since the dawn of time. But in recent years we have added social media, the options that come with menu-driven software, and an explosion of consumer choices in pretty much every product category. According to research from Roberts Wesleyan College, adults are now making an average of 35,000 decisions per day. As a result, there are five symptoms that hinder our thinking and impair our daily performance.

The Symptoms of Decision Fatigue

First, there is continuous partial attention, which forces our minds to constantly dart back and forth from micro-decision to micro-decision, each one costing us a bit of glucose energy. This darting becomes cumulative over time and the reason why we wonder what happened to the productivity of the day. Have you ever said to yourself, “I know I made a lot of decisions, but I didn’t really accomplish anything?” When the brain is not given a change to replenish itself, glucose levels become so depleted that you can actually feel your thinking shutting down.

Safe Decision Syndrome is the fear of making any decision that might result in a mistake, an unfortunate outcome, or perhaps correction or discipline by a supervisor. With the number of decisions we are required to make these days, the possibility of this happening has gone way up. Those who have been “burned” by one or more of these situations become overly cautious about making any decision that is even tinged with uncertainty. Most times, they just stop unless they have explicit permission to act.

Third, there is menu-driven thinking, which is an over-dependence on digital cues. The advent of computer software has brought with it increasingly sophisticated ways of guiding, some would say manipulating, our thinking and choices.  Whether it is telephone menus, airline reservation sites, or the screen in your car’s dashboard, we are thinking less and being led more. Some might argue that menu-driven thinking reduces the need to think, thereby saving mental energy. The price of this, however, is a deficit in creative and critical thinking especially among many of those coming of age in this digital society. When they are compelled to make decisions with an uncertain outcome, the associated stress of doing so consumes a tremendous amount of glucose.

Fourth, there is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). This has become a juggernaut in both social media and marketing. The fact that a sizeable number of people interrupt their sleep to check their mobile devices illustrates the way FOMO has become a major factor in fostering decision fatigue. As with any other digital interaction, the fear of missing out requires dozens of decisions throughout the day, each one consuming a bit of the blood glucose so essential for attention and concentration.

Finally, there is the sense of manipulation we develop when we feel like we’re being led to a particular outcome, even though we’re being told we have complete control. Sadly, this has become pervasive throughout society because of digital technology. As a result, we expend more blood glucose trying to game the systems that are trying to maneuver us into pre-ordained choices. Having to anticipate these processes for even simple purchases or decisions draws our focus and energy away for more significant issues. Feeling like you’re settling or surrendering results in an underlying sense of distrust in all these systems.

The Solutions to Decision Fatigue

Over the past several years, I’ve identified more than 30 strategies for battling decision fatigue and continue to discover more as I interview effective decision-makers. Here are three to get you started.

First, begin each day with something that will you give a sense of completion. Admiral William McRaven has become known for his ten rules learned during Navy Seal training. The first of these is “make your bed,” a simple task but a good way to start the day. For me, it’s posting an inspiring thought on Linked-In. Others with whom I have spoken have a ritual that helps center their thinking before diving into what needs to be done. What do you do every morning to top off your energy before commencing the work at hand?

Second, work at eliminating unnecessary decisions. I spoke to an executive who told me of assuming the leadership of a manufacturing plant. Being a first-time plant manager, he dutifully studied all the reports that arrived in his in-box, sometimes late into the night. But one day it dawned on him that no one ever asked about these reports. He started asking those generating them about their purpose. He was told that his predecessor was a “numbers guy” and couldn’t seem to get enough data to analyze. So, this manager sat down one morning considered the value of each report. Then he eliminated all but two, saving him a couple of hours of work a week. Effective decision-makers are constantly looking for ways to consolidate, delegate or eliminate decisions for both themselves and those with whom they work. How about you?

Finally, chunk your time. I’ve interviewed several executives who divide their time into 15- or 30-minute segments. Then they assign the decisions they need to make to those segments. This is especially useful if their days is filled with requests from others. Not only does it compel those asking the questions to better organize their time, it forces the decision-maker to act, rather allowing the issue to drag on or be postponed. Even if you cannot do this for the entire day, simply dedicating time chucks every morning or afternoon will enable you to focus without the endless distractions. Don’t worry. The people around you will get used to it. If you have a boss that wants you available at every whim, sell him or her on how you can get more done if you compartmentalize some of your time.

When battling decision fatigue, the goal is NOT to better manage the 35,000 decisions we might face every day. It is to REDUCE the number of decisions we make. In other words, fewer decisions equals less blood glucose consumed. This leaves more sugar energy for focus on the most important issues.

Do Beliefs Inform Behavior?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend reminded me of the old saying “beliefs inform behavior.” Everyone reading this post has heard this adage, or something similar. While we mostly invoke it when considering our outlook and perspective, it is critical for supervisors to consider it as well.

In managing people in a variety of settings over the past 35 years, I’ve always found it fascinating how different people respond differently to identical instructions. Some just put in their time and the absolute minimum effort. Others put everything they’ve got into the task, regardless of what’s involved. Then there’s the bunch that fall somewhere in between.

If you’re a seasoned manager, you’re probably thinking, “All of this is common sense.” Maybe, but how much do you use these insights to inform the way you supervise people?  Here are a few suggestions, based on my experience and those of others I’ve observed over the past three decades.

First, find ways to assess work ethic. The longer I study management and supervision, the more I am convinced that everything starts with selection. If you are not placing candidates in a situation where they are compelled to demonstrate their skills, work ethic, and creativity you’re only getting half the picture. You can’t change someone else’s work ethic. So if they don’t have it to begin with, don’t hire them, no matter how much you’re tempted. If you already have an existing team, consider what seems to motivate each individual. Even those who count the minutes on Friday afternoons are engaged by certain things. You just have to find out what they are.

Second, ask people what they think. I read Jon Huntsman’s autobiography recently. Over the past 40 years, he and his team have built the second largest chemicals and plastics producer in the world. Time and again, he mentions that the key to acquiring and turning around failing chemical plants has been to ask the people working there how to improve the company’s functions. When was the last time you asked your employees how to improve things and incorporated those suggestions?

Third, offer opportunities your people will find engaging. Once a skill or routine has been mastered it becomes repetitive, regardless of its complexity. Even the most devoted employee will grow bored with day-to-day tasks. The formula is sadly familiar: Boredom informs belief. Belief informs behavior. Whether you provide cross-training, release time for new research, industry association involvement, or some other activity, consider what can you do to reinvigorate solid performers who feel locked into a dead-end routine?

With the turnover of each employee costing tens of thousands of dollars these days, paying attention to belief and outlook is an essential element of supervision.

At What Point Does Digital Technology Harm Employee Development?

A recent article in Vertical Distinct describes how Amazon.com uses digital technology to regulate its workplaces. The company has come under scrutiny a number of times because of its hyper-focus on improving productivity. It is understandable that productivity would be a focus in an environment filled with repetitive and monotonous tasks. At what point, however, does this focus become counterproductive? More globally, what impact do these practices have on the development of decision making and critical thinking skills among those who work for the company?

Amazon currently employs 850,000 people in the US and throughout the world. The vast majority of these individuals will move on to work at other firms over time. So, what happens if Amazon’s hyper-focus on productivity on prevents these employees from honing the skills essential to thinking independently in future work environments?

Imagine hiring a twenty-something who has spent the first five years of his working life in an Amazon distribution center where his every step and action is programmed and regulated. If you ask him to think for himself, he may not know what that looks like. Will he have developed the workplace problem solving skills one might assume of someone in their twenties? Multiply this challenge several million-fold over time and you begin to see the significance of the dilemma.

Firms hiring Amazon alumni would be wise to consider this fact during selection. No firm wants to spend extra resources teaching basic thinking skills and workplace resourcefulness. Amazon is not solely responsible for this phenomenon, of course. But as goes one of a nation’s business leaders, others are sure to follow.

Sadly, this phenomenon contributes to the learned helplessness we are already complaining about in society. Learned helplessness is fostered by three factors that have combined to create a sense of personal dependence rather than personal resourcefulness. First, there is menu-driven thinking or the over-dependence on digital menus and technology. Regardless of age and experience, we are all manipulated by these systems. This is especially true for digital natives.

Second there is the belief that everyone is entitled to success as they define it. An example of this are “trophy kids, along with educators and others who believe we shouldn’t keep score during games because the loser may have their feelings hurt. Third are the enabling managers who answer endless questions, rather than compelling their people to develop the critical thinking skills to “figure it out” independently. Effective decision skills evolve over time as life’s obstacles are confronted and overcome. Much of this takes place on the job.

Some managers reading this might argue, “My job is not to teach critical thinking skills. My job is to get the most out the people I supervise.” While this feeling is understandable, one must wonder where the threshold lies between productivity and workforce development as a responsibility to both workers and the marketplace in general.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? No. Rather than a solution, there is more likely to be an on-going tension between the desire for productivity and profit and responsibility to the greater good. There are, of course, consequences if there becomes an imbalance in this tension. If too much focus is placed on productivity and the bottom line, employers will experience high turnover and heightened tension between management and those it employs. (We have recently witnessed a bit of this at Amazon.) If the focus is placed too much on employee development, then productivity and profits may be impacted.

What are your thoughts on this conundrum? I would like to know and so would others. Post your comments below or send me an email to bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

On any given day, each person you supervise makes more than a hundred decisions to resolve problems and complete projects. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition evolves into the mastery necessary to navigate the daily workload. But then there are those unexpected challenges that can disrupt momentum in a heartbeat. We have all experienced the fear of making the wrong decision, even though we pretty much knew what to say or do. Most of us possess the confidence move past this initial apprehension and navigate to a successful solution.

Some, however, struggle to adapt. Much of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence in their ability to solve problems and make decisions, especially in the stress of the moment. So, how can you help these individuals develop more confidence in their daily decisions? The effort comes down to a simple word – empower. 

Top performers in any work environment exude confidence. They believe they are fully capable of dealing with whatever issue confronts them. In order other words. They feel empowered. So, what does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. In the workplace, this means being able to examine the elements of a situation, evaluate what needs to be accomplished and determine the steps for doing so. You can share all the universal truths you want about how to solve problems, but the ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces stress. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, those who feel empowered possess the skills to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out, even if you’ve made a thoughtful choice. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the best decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with a fix.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. Top performers take initiative without asking for permission. They scan the environment for what needs to be done. They are always thinking three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of control over situations others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More and more of society is focusing on blame when something goes wrong. As a result, many people hesitate before making decisions, not wanting to suffer embarrassment, or even humiliation if a decision goes wrong. For this reason, many seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.

How can you help people feel empowered? Try these three strategies:

Provide clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain back to you what they heard. Chances are, you’ll find gaps in their understanding. People don’t generally get an entire concept the first time. Go back and re-explain what they missed. Then reinforce the concept through a bit of practical application. This will also encourage them to ask questions about other concerns they have. By the way, asking, “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” communicates that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Many times, we delegate responsibility and assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so on. Then we become frustrated when they ask endless questions. To be effective, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain to the person that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions initially. Say something like, “You may feel uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of decisions where they may hesitate. Then show them the process for resolving them. If you have performed this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. You might even create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re on their own. Recognize, however, that those individuals who are overly reliant on “rules” may require more coaching than those possessing confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is human nature to jump in when you see someone making a mistake. Resist the temptation. If they begin to believe that you will “save their butt” every time something is about to go wrong, they will become afraid to act or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsal and reinforcement are critical. Some will embrace these principles right away. Others will remain uncomfortable embracing their new authority. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty and fear of failure or blame is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Explain that you understand their apprehension. We’ve all been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work together on each of the processes they will need to master. This means posing situations and case studies, based on their and your past experiences.
  • Stay close as they begin to implement. Check in regularly, but be careful not to make the decisions for them. It’s a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have developed the confidence to act on their own.

When those around you feel empowered, they make better decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

Making Decisions When There is No Right Answer

Yuval Levin, writing in The Wall Street Journal recently, made the observation that, “To govern, at least at the level of the presidency, is to make hard choices among competing options with incomplete information.” While he was referring to the decisions made at the top of our political leadership, the principle is the same in many other environments.

One of the insights I share with my audiences is that decisions don’t have answers, they have outcomes. Yet the menu-driven environment we live in these days is making us think otherwise. You can open up a browser, type in most any question and access hundreds, if not thousands of possible solutions within .6 seconds. Surely, one of them will solve your problem. But there’s the rub – which one?

When it comes to making decisions, it is human nature to seek safety. In other words, “Which one of these possible solutions will be the right one?” But when we think this way, we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about the right answer, we should be asking about the best answer. “Best,” however, implies that we have all the information necessary to make the decision. But here’s the bottom line – YOU WILL NEVER HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION!

In some cases, this is compounded by competing options that both sound reasonable. Perhaps each one represents an opposing, but valid viewpoint. Maybe you will feel bad no matter which one you choose. Perhaps each one triggers your emotions, but for different reasons. Maybe you know there will be “blowback” no matter what you decide.

I don’t have a three- or five-step solution to this issue. No one does. But after studying effective decision-makers for more than a decade, here’s what I’ve observed:

  • They use their intuition to decide when they have enough information to make the decision. Attempting to gather all possible data ends up in analysis paralysis. Once they feel at peace with what their “little voice” is telling them, they move on to the steps ensuring effective implementation.

 

  • They record their reasoning. The best decisions-makers recognize that memories are fleeting. It’s best to create a record of what they decided along with why they made the choices they did. This is helpful if their reasoning is called into question legally, by a supervisor, or perhaps the greater community. They can also reference this record as they make related decisions in the future.

 

  • They anticipate objections. They don’t do this with the expectation of having a response that will mollify every unhappy stakeholder. They do this more to demonstrate that those objections were taken into consideration during deliberations.

 

  • Once they have acted, these individuals don’t dwell on the decision. Instead, they become focused on ensuring proper implementation. If problems arise, they are right there to make adjustments, explain reasoning, and ensure compliance.

 

  • They refuse to allow others’ frustrations, anger, even irrationality to make them rethink the decision. The best decision-makers recognize that management and leadership are not popularity contests. There will almost always be unhappiness among some whom the decision affects. These individuals accept that you can’t be all things to all people.

The best decision-makers make the hard choices. The easy ones have already been made.

Save Energy by Managing Your Appoplexy

It is so easy to find an app for every little convenience these days. Whether you’re looking for travel short-cuts, recipes, or simply games to pass the time. Search any topic on Apple or Android and you’ll find millions of them, most free or less than five dollars. Installing them is as easy as clicking on “open,” authorizing installation with your thumb and waiting a few seconds for it to load. Voilà, instant convenience and fun.

In many ways, however, apps have become a crutch as everyone reaches for their smart phone seeking assistance with everything under the sun. But there is a more insidious cost of having an app for every need imaginable. All these apps can be a source of decision fatigue. Imagine trying to save a bit of money by using the app you’re positive you’ve downloaded to save a couple of bucks on Bar-B-Que. As you page through each screen, your brain has to examine each app’s icon ever-so-briefly to determine whether or not that’s the one you’re looking for. Each one of these neural transactions consumes a bit of the sugar energy your brain depends upon to focus and function.

Too many apps can clog up the system. There’s the conference app you downloaded for that meeting in Detroit back in 2016. There’s the Sit or Squat app you downloaded to help your aging parents find the closest public toilet on last year’s vacation. There’s that car seat helper app you used seven years ago, except now your kids are in middle school. If you can’t remember the exact name of the Bar-B-Que app or what it looks like, you could spend five minutes looking for something that will only save you two bucks. And once you’ve found it, you’ll probably spend another couple of minutes updating it, depending on the speed of the local internet.

Sometimes in seminars, I’ll ask those attending to pull out their smart phones and count the number of apps they have downloaded. The record so far on one device is 241. That’s ten full screens of 24 apps each. Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to apps, the more convenience you have, the less convenience you have.

Decision fatigue is caused by making too many unproductive decisions. Looking for that “needle-in-a-haystack” app is a great example of why we feel tired halfway through the day. This is a phenomenon I call appoplexy. So here’s a quick solution. Take out your smart phone right now and delete an app you really don’t use. Then make a practice of doing so whenever you’re on line at the grocery store, waiting to get your car washed, or waiting for the movie to begin. Eliminating little decisions will conserve the energy you need for the bigger decisions throughout the day.

The Inextricable Link Between Pride and Outcome

Back in the 1970s, the leadership of railway equipment manufacturer, Budd Company, invited a select group of their assemblers to take an overnight ride on a train composed of the cars they had built. The leadership simply wanted to provide a bit of fun and recognition for those toiling in the factory. But then an interesting thing happened. Those aboard the train began to examine the “product” they had produced. They discovered missing rivets, windows that didn’t seal properly and other details that left them irritated that the work had not been done to their standards. All of it was within the company’s tolerances, but that wasn’t good enough for them.

Upon returning to the factory, they established new processes to ensure the railway cars they were producing were something they could be proud of every single time. I suspect Budd’s leadership had no idea this was going to happen. They just wanted to provide a reward for some hardworking souls. But there’s a universal truth illustrated here – there is an inextricable link between pride and quality of outcome.

Now, you may be thinking, “Of course there is. There’s nothing new here.” But how do people feel about it on your front line? How much pride do your people feel in the work they do? Chances are, the answer is all over the map. Some are totally invested. Others may be simply there for the paycheck. Then there are a bunch in the middle. If you directly supervise them, you probably know where along the continuum each person falls.

So, how do you build pride in those who don’t display a lot of interest or investment? Make it real. How? Here are a couple of examples:

Recognize little extra efforts – Many times, people toil away without being recognized for how well they’re performing. The key is to let them know that you know. Several years, I became acquainted with the general manager of a resort in the southwest. With 2500 people on his team it was impossible to know how everyone was contributing. Knowing this, he put the word out to his supervisors that when they saw someone doing something right, they should let him know via e-mail or a note to his office. Then once a week, he sat down to write complementary notes to the individuals identified. But he went a step further by mailing these notes to each person’s home. After all, a housekeeper who receives one of these notes while on the job will probably just stick it in her uniform and forget it. A handwritten note from the general manager that arrives at home gets posted on the refrigerator so the entire family can see it.

Share more customer feedback – Too often, customers wanting to share positive comments end up filling out a form on the company website these days. These kudos are then posted on behalf of the entire company. That’s fine, but what about the person the customer actually had contact with? If someone mentions a name, why not track that person down and share the feedback personally? Chances are, they weren’t even aware it was submitted.

You can also do this personally. When someone provides me with good service, I make a point of complimenting them, even if we’re on live chat. I’m not trying to make a big difference, just making the effort to brighten someone’s day. But while it might a little thing to me, it might be the best thing they’ve heard all week. Pride and outcome go hand-in-hand. What can you and your colleagues do to foster more of this connection?

Pre-Mortem: One of the Essentials to Effective Decision Making

“If we had only thought about that ahead of time!” Have you ever heard someone say that after a decision went wrong?  Too often, we confront a problem, figure out how to deal with it and then are surprised when the outcome isn’t what we planned. One of the secrets to making better decisions is to consider in advance how different possible solutions may play out.

In the 1980’s management researcher, Gary Klein, coined the term pre-mortem in an article written for the Harvard Business Review. Klein argued that when making a decision, it is important to pre-suppose what could happen as a result of acting in a particular way. As Klein put it, a premortem is “imagining that an event has already occurred.  This increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes . . . a premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem.” In other words, the person or team asks, “What could go wrong?” when considering how to act. Those possibilities are then factored into the decision-making process.

As much as this technique was created as a part of management strategy, a premortem can be a helpful method for making any decision requiring a modicum of judgment. In our haste to cross items off our to-do lists these days, it is tempting to identify the problem, come up with possible solutions and act without taking time to consider the downstream impact on people or how they might react.

Years ago, I was a newly-hired counselor in a university career center. While I kept my office nice and tidy, the common area was a mess – half-used reams of copier paper, full wastebaskets, books and magazines piled all over, dirty coffee cups and dishes. You get the idea. I got so fed up that one weekend I came in and organized the entire area. I cleaned off desks, emptied trash cans, washed coffee cups and even painted a wall that was all marked up. I thought my colleagues would be pleased. Instead, they didn’t speak to me for a week! How dare I straightened up their mess without asking. The one thing I had failed to do was consider how they might react if I did them this “favor.” Chances are, you’ve made at least one mistake like this as well. Conducting a pre-mortem, whether it’s personal or team-based can help you avoid mistakes and heartburn like these.

Remember to take each of these scenarios out three or four steps and consider the possible outcomes. Then make a decision as how to proceed and develop strategies for the different responses you might confront. Rather than using post-mortems to evaluate what went wrong, we should use pre-mortems to increase our chances of success.