You need to take an extended vacation. No, seriously, you do.

You need to take an extended vacation. No, seriously, you do.

Not only do you need a vacation, but it needs to be at least two weeks, and preferably longer. I have given many CEOs and business leaders this advice over the years, and I believe in it. 

Why a minimum of two weeks? Well, you need the first week to unwind and let work “go.” The second week, you truly relax, the tension of work and all its issues leave, but the brain continues to work in the background. After two weeks, I start to see the forest for the trees. The problems that were prominent in my life no longer are as relevant as I thought they were. Turning to my navigate sage power, I turn to my elder self to look back and see what is essential and what I should be focused on rather than that what has my attention.

Now I am unwinding

However, like the old saying, “Physician heal thyself,” I have failed to heed my advice until two weeks ago. I am now sitting in NE Spain, enjoying a quieter time and relaxing with good friends, food, and wine. To ensure my disconnection, I have adopted the following rules:

  • Limit email activity to 15 minutes a day.
  • Disconnect from Facebook (well, I effectively did that a couple of years ago) and all social media other than LinkedIn. 
  • Post to LinkedIn, but according to a plan, it takes about 5 minutes a day.
  • Avoid the news and television.
  • Reading lots but no business books.
  • At least 30 minutes of meditation a day.
  • Walk at least 5 miles a day.
  • Swim as often as possible in the ocean.

These rules are not complicated, but we are so conditioned to remain connected and tuned in that it takes effort to disconnect.

As I relax, I remember that I, like my clients, need to take an extended vacation to recover from the low-level stress of COVID over the last eighteen months. COVID has taken a toll on me, and more than I realized. While I have been active during COVID, I recognized that I have been reactive more than proactive. Now, not only do I want to change this behavior, but I am framing it around what I want to accomplish in Q4 2021 and 2022. 

The benefits for you

Sitting in quiet squares or overlooking the ocean, the focus has gotten more precise, the planning more effortless, and many things are just getting crossed off the list or deleted. Also, I am finding that I can better help my clients as my mind declutters.

I am focusing on achieving my long-term goals and not get distracted by what is in front of me. By refocusing, I realized much of what I was doing was not relevant to the long-term goals and thus a distraction.

Now, I can’t say that everything will be done and perfect at the end of this. But I will have more energy, be much better mentally to deal with what lies ahead, and cope with winter.

The benefit for your business.

Taking a minimum of two weeks off provides additional benefits too. You can see how your business operates without you. You will have answers to the following questions:

  • Does my leadership team function well in my absence? Are they aligned, and Is there conflict?
  • Do my team and company understand its mission, strategy, and purpose?
  • Does the organization continue to hit its KPIs for the quarter?
  • Do my clients need to deal with me, or can my team handle the clients’ needs?

I have asked many clients how their business would perform if they were unavailable for three to six months, and the answer is usually “Fine.” However, if you cannot go away for two weeks and disconnect, is that true?

If your business cannot operate without you, you don’t have a business; you have a job! To successfully leave your business, you have to make yourself redundant. Only by creating your own redundancy can you sell it, pass it on, or assume a non-executive position. I realize for many business owners, this isn’t easy, as their identity is tied up in their business, but to create a more significant legacy, ensure it operates without you.

So when did you last leave?

As I said earlier, with COVID, I hadn’t taken a vacation in 18+ months. Not only that, but with WFH, I had, like many others, increased the amount of time I was working which typically included at least one full day of every weekend. All of this took a toll.

So when did you last take a “proper” vacation for at least two weeks? Did you disconnect, or were you on calls and emails all the time, putting out fires and saving the company? The stress of the last eighteen months has taken a mental toll on all of us. If you don’t take a break and let yourself recover, you will be ill-prepared for what is ahead. While none of us know what is ahead, we can be sure that labor, supplies, and demand will be unpredictable. 

COVID and its effects are not done. I feel like we’re just finished the first half, but there is another half to go, and the opposing team that emerges from the locker room has a new strategy.

If it has been a while since you took an extended vacation, take one now, you will be amazed at how much you and your business will benefit.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

 

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Recently I have been addressing this issue with many clients. It appears for many that the model is either (i) some hourly rate that covers costs with a markup; or (ii) some markup over costs. Does this fit with your model? However, there are many models concerning your pricing, and I challenge you to think differently.

I think the key is to start from two points:

  • What is the value that you are providing: and
  • What is the customers’ BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement)

The first is to identify the value you provide, and the second is the customers’ next alternative to you. Your pricing needs to fall between these, but even within this space, there are many options.

Here are a few examples.

Selling products on the web.

If you are selling products on the web, what is the value you provide your customer? If there is no value other than a low price, then your customer’s BATNA is whomever else is selling the same products. Now you are competing on price, availability, and shipping costs. If their BATNA is Amazon, how much margin do you have if you match Amazon’s prices? Probably not much. Therefore you need to find a way to distinguish yourself so that you are not competing on price. 

Some companies provide lots of information on the products they offer so customers can make more informed decisions. We have all seen Amazon’s reviews being increasingly filled with fake reviews. The company provides more value by providing this information; however, how does it ensure customers purchase through it versus using it for information and then buying from Amazon.

Stopping customers’ switching is especially hard if they are Prime customers or this is not an impulse buy. In many cases, having got the information, whether on the website or through a phone line, the time to switch to Amazon and find the same product may not be worth it, and so they will purchase from such a company’s site. However, I am sure many sales are lost because the customer reverts to the company they know or look at the price and, having obtained the information, no longer value it to justify the price difference.

If the information is on the company’s website, that may be a cost of doing business. However, if there is an option to phone a support line and get advice on determining the appropriate product, maybe this service can be sold on a subscription basis. If customers pay for the advice line, they may become more “sticky,” preferring to buy from a company that provides excellent advice rather than purely on price. Also, since they are tied into the advice line, they may go there more often, increasing the volume of repeat business for the company.

Selling Knowledge

Recently talking with a company, “Z,” with a great deal of expertise in the manufacturing sector, Z is often retained by customers to solve their problems. However, once provided with a solution, the customers use other lower-priced manufacturers to produce the product. The company was struggling to price this service because using an hourly metric, the rate seemed excessive to get the return on their expertise. 

Returning to the two points I mentioned above, the value this company provides is enormous. Their customers’ BATNA may be six months of delay and thousands in costs to correct the production process. In such a case, it is hard to justify an hour rate, but in such cases, I am constantly reminded of the story of Neils Bohrs.

“A company’s machine breaks down. The company’s owner, an old school friend of Niels Bohr, calls in the physicist to help fix it. Bohr examines the machine. He draws an X on the side and says, “Hit it right here with a hammer.”

The company’s mechanic hits the machine with a hammer. It springs into action. The company’s owner thanks Niels Bohr profusely and sends him on his way.

A few days later, the owner receives an invoice from Bohr for $10,000 and gets on the phone with him immediately: “Niels! What’s this $10,000 invoice? You were only here for 10 minutes! Send me a detailed invoice.”

A few days later, the company’s owner receives this from Bohr:

INVOICE  
Drawing X on the side of your machine $1
Knowing where to put the X $9,999
Total $10,000

So do you price your services because you know where to put the “X.” In discussion with a company on this point, they were concerned that charging the value of their knowledge on where to place “X” would put off the customer. However, it is critical in such moments to realize the customers’ BATNA. If a six-month production delay would cost them $100,000 on top of $150,000 of costs in getting the production process right, then the customer profits from any option less than $250,000.

Realizing that in such a case, even a price of $225,000 might cause the customer to walk, price it differently. If the cost to produce the product is $20, then charge 25c per product made. The cost would increase production costs by 1.25%, which barely moves the needle. However, provided the customer is expected to produce more than a million of them, it is better for the expert and maybe more palatable for the client.

Selling Vistage

As a Vistage Chair, I am often asked by possible members how to justify the membership price. What they are looking at is a monthly fee that equates to about $20,000 per annum. However, what we are providing is value, and the BATNA is very large.

Members are CEOs of companies with revenues of $5 million and up, so my response is, “What is the value of your average decision?” If, as CEO, you decide on new ERP systems, hiring key executives, determining strategy, then I would argue that those decisions have a value of at least $200,000 or more. 

So to make a better decision, the CEO would either have to hire a consultant or go with what they know. Assuming they hire a consultant, the cost comprises:

  • time required to find the consultant who doesn’t gain from the decision (i.e., the consultant is not selling you the system or getting the recruitment fee);
  • time required to brief the consultant on the issue; and 
  • the consultant’s fee.

I estimate that this cost would be $40k to $50k. Therefore, your Vistage group provides you with an answer for 50% or less of the consultant’s price. Not only that, but you can have the group help you with many such decisions during a year. So your ROI on your Vistage membership is probably 200% or more. Where else can you get such a return on investment?

So what are you going to do?

For all CEOs and salespeople, the answer is to slow down and look at what you provide to the customer. What is the value of that product or service, and what is their BATNA. Determining this may take time, but it is well worth it. Because once you have completed this exercise, you can price your products and services in such a way that maximizes your margins while providing profit improvements for your customer.

So, sit down with your product team and salespeople and start brainstorming on the value and BATNA. You may find opportunities to increase your pricing or realize that a particular product or service is not worth offering as it is a commodity.

If you want help with pricing better and increase your margins, contact me, and I can help you.

 

(c) Copyright 2021, Marc Borrelli

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Are you killing your firm’s WFH productivity?

WFH during COVID did result in the falling of productivity that many feared. Surveys showed that productivity remained the same and, in some cases, increased. However, a new study of more than 10,000 employees at an Asian technology company from April 2019 to August 2020 provides a different picture. Using software installed on employees’ computers that tracked what the employee was doing, the research confirmed that the employees worked hard. Total hours worked were 30% higher than pre-COVID, including an 18% increase in working outside regular hours. But this additional effort failed to translate into an increase in output. 

This research confirms early survey evidence where both employers and employees felt they were producing as much as before. However, the correct measure of productivity is output per working hour, not hours worked. Using this measure of productivity, productivity fell by 20%.

The research further analyzed the time the employees spent in:

  • “collaboration hours,” time spent in various types of meetings, and
  • “focus hours,” time where they could concentrate on their tasks and weren’t interrupted, even by email. 

The data showed that despite working additional hours, the employees had less focus time than before the pandemic as meetings consumed the extra time. The study supports Bartleby’s law which states that “80% of the time of 80% of the people in meetings is wasted.”

Why were there so many meetings?

  1. Managers can check on their team’s performance as they are less sure of the team’s commitment.
  2. Managers call many to validate their existence when they are not in the office. 
  3. The increased difficulty of co-ordinating employees who are working remotely. 

The latter suggests that WFM is inefficient, not to mention that remote employees also spend less time being evaluated, trained, and coached.

So, while workers saved commuting time, they didn’t hourly pay fell. However, WFH did not impact all employees similarly.

  • Those who the longest tenure with the company were the most productive, suggesting they could use well-formed relationships to work more effectively. Simon Sinek explained this in a recent video
  • Employees with children worked around 20 minutes a day more than those without, implying an even more significant fall in their productivity, presumably because they were distracted by child-care duties.

The researchers point out that the firm’s staff are nearly all college-educated whose roles “involve significant cognitive work, developing new software or hardware applications or solutions, collaborating with teams of professionals, working with clients, and engaging in innovation and continuous improvement.” The impact on other types of employees could be very different.

WFH expectedly resulted in teething and coordination problems as it was imposed suddenly. However, since the study stopped last August, there is a question of whether employee productivity has increased since. Most important from the research is that employees achieved the same output with slightly less ‘focus time’ than at the office. The real culprit of inefficiency was the time spent in meetings. 

Conclusion

So, to increase your firm’s productivity, don’t have as many meetings and keep them short. Ensure that the behaviors you accept and expect as part of your firm’s culture are not encouraging non-productive meetings. Also, with a move for more WFH, start building behaviors that will encourage meeting efficiency. Finally, there are a number of ways to improve meeting productivity as I mentioned in Not Another **** Meeting.

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Every business owner I have ever known, has sought to sell their business at the top of the market. I think this is part of the movement where many are in a constant quest to outdo others. While conceptually I understand this desire, these owners should heed the voices of some sages.

Daniel Kahneman’, “The average investor’s return is significantly lower than the market indices due primarily to market timing.” 

Warren Buffett, “Trying to time the market is a fool’s game.”

Baron Rothschild, “You can have the top 20% and the bottom 20%; I will take the 80% in the middle.”

 

What it takes to Sell at the Top of the Market

If you are determined to sell at the top and are ready to step aside at any time, the only concern is timing. However, if you have other timing considerations, e.g., retire when my business is worth $X, step aside when I am 65, then things are far more complicated.

For the market to be at the top when you reach some predetermine criteria, you need to ensure that the entire economy collaborates with you. To do this, I expect you would need to have the ear of: 

  • the President, 
  • the majority of Congress, 
  • the Chair of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury,  
  • the President of the European Central Bank, 
  • the German Chancellor, 
  • the President of France, 
  • the President of Russia, 
  • the President of the People’s Republic of China, 
  • the heads of the People’s Bank of China, and
  • the leaders of all the leading investment banks and hedge funds worldwide, to name a few. 

Not only would you need their ear, but you would have to persuade them that collaborating with you is in their best interests as well. Furthermore, many of these people would want something in return for a favor, and most of the people I have spoken with would be able to afford the price Vladimir Putin would expect. Finally, I have found any scheme where only one person knows of it but requires many people to ensure its success is bound to fail.

As a result, I would say that trying to sell at the top is a fool’s errand and one that should be abandoned.

 

A Contrarian View

Some have argued that selling at the bottom of the market makes more sense. The rationale is that the business owner will reinvest those assets into other assets whenever they sell their company. Thus if you want to ensure continued wealth accumulation, one should do it at the bottom of the market rather than the top.

To examine this theory, I did a simple analysis. I reviewed four dates and the market conditions. I looked at the Russell 2000 Price Earnings Ratio for those dates and indexed them with the 2000 Price Earnings Ration as the base = 100. Assuming that enterprise value (EV) to EBITDA ratios followed the Russell 2000’s PER, the EV/EBITDA ratio in 2000 was 5x, and the company had an EBITDA of $1 million in each year before the sale, the results are as follows:

Date Market Conditions Russell 2000 PER (Indexed) EV / EBITDA Multiple Proceeds ($k)
12/31/2000 After the Top of the market 100.0 5.0 $5,000
12/31/2005 Near the top of the market 58.6 2.9      $2,929
12/31/2010 Emerging from a recession 52.6 2.6 $2,631
12/31/2015 Middle of a bull market 74.7 3.7 $3,734

I then made a few more simple assumptions:

  • Transaction costs to be 30% comprising intermediary and legal fees of 10% and taxes of 20%.
  • The proceeds are invested in two funds, VFIAX – Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares and VBMFX – Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares as proxies for a general stock and bond market investment.
  • The allocation is 70% into VFIAX and 30% into VBMFX.
  • Any funds withdrawn and any distributions are ignored as they would be the same for both funds.

Below is a chart of the S&P 500 from December 31, 2000, to December 31, 2020 to show the market’s performance over the period.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Following the investments as described above after five, ten and fifteen years the returns were:

Date Initial Value ($k) After 5 yrs ($k) Return (%) After 10 yrs ($k) Return (%) After 15 years ($k) Return (%)
12/31/2000 5,000 4,822 -3.6 4,930 -1.4 7,027 40.5
12/31/2005 2,929 2,993 2.2 4,292 46.5 5,414 84.8
12/31/2010 2,631 3,790 44.0 4,786 81.9    
12/31/2015 3,734 4,643 24.3        

 

So as it can be seen, while selling at the top, provided the greatest wealth after fifteen years, interesting the difference over 10 years was less than 3% between selling at the top and selling just after the bottom. The other points are somewhere in between. Therefore, selling at the top is not the conclusive answer we expected.

 

So what to do?

What I have always advised clients is to build a business that is attractive to buyers and can be sold. The key is to create your own redundancy, so that you can sell it, stay in a non-executive capacity and effectively “coupon clip,” or pass it on to your children or employees. You have many options and if someone comes along and offers you “silly” money, take it. But don’t worry about the “Top of the Market.”

If you want to know if your business is sellable, complete this questionnaire, and if you want help building a sellable business, contact me.

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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COVID = Caught Inside

Reflecting on the current employment environment as we emerge from COVID makes me think of “Being Caught Inside When a Big Set Comes Through.” Why?

For those who don’t understand the analogy, it is something that surfers experience when paddling out when a large set of waves appears. The first wave appears in front of you, and it is a monster. So you put your head down and paddle like crazy to get over it before it crashes on you. You paddle up the face of the beast, hoping to get over the top before it breaks and drags back down “over the falls.” You make it, and you look up to see the next monster, larger than the last, bearing down on you. Tired, you have to paddle harder to make it over that one before you end up in the “impact zone.”

2020 was the first wave that appeared. We all put our collective heads down and paddled hard. We made it over. However, talking to many in early 2021, I don’t think we realized how much effort that had taken. Everyone was tired, many a little depressed. But as we looked up, the next wave was there blocking the entire horizon. That wave is the increase in business activity.

Some of my clients are experiencing more business in Q1 than they did in H1 last year. So we need to paddle hard to make it over this one. However, with everyone tired and depressed from the last one, it is getting harder. Everyone is looking for employees right now, but you are asking more of your employees when they are already working flat out and dealing with the stress until you hire.

The Current Situation

As a result, many are thinking about moving. A new survey reported by Fast Company found that 52% of U.S. workers are considering a job change this year, and 44% have plans in place to move. What is interesting when breaking down the data is that:

  • 59% of those whose annual household income is between $50,000 and $75,000 (the middle-income bracket) were thinking about moving.
  • 76% of those under 30 either looking or open to new opportunities.
  • 48% of six-figure salaried workers were planning their change, and 66% of them are feeling more confident about their decision to change jobs than they did six months ago. 
  • 21% of those surveyed felt there were “better opportunities available to [them] at other companies.”

What I have also seen recently is not only that people are considering leaving, but who. The “Who” here are those centers of influence within the organization. To understand that, look at your “shadow org chart,” which shows employees who have disproportionate levels of impact relative to their hierarchical position. To develop one, ask your employees these three questions:

  1. Who energizes you at work? (list four or more people)
  2. Who do you go to for help and advice? (list four or more people)
  3. Who do you go to when a decision needs to be made? (list four or more people)

If key influencer leaves, then many others may decide that the time to move on has come. One executive told me this week that his concern was that if two of their top influencers left, that would be the beginning of the end.

A recent HBR article suggested asking both the departing employee and the rest of your team questions, listening attentively, and acknowledging their concerns. Focus on goals and reassure your team that they’re still important and achievable, and provide them with educational opportunities to show that you care about their long-term effectiveness.

Regardless, those looking or considering a change are looking for:

  • A stable organization and where they are sure they’re growing and changing within that organization. 
  • More pay. Pay is the main factor that entices employees to look for a new role.
  • Work-life balance is also an essential requirement. 68% of employed workers and 43% of women said that remote work and work-from-home options are “very important,” versus 33% of men. 18% want to have more flexible hours in a new job.
  • Finally, the overall work environment is an essential factor.

However, employees say that the most critical factor that keeps them with their employer is engaging work.

Furthermore, a recent study from Ceridian reports that the cost of onboarding a new employee can range from $2,000 to $4,000, and talent expects a rise of 29% to change roles. I have mentioned before that everyone I know is looking for people. So if a 30% increase is required to change, and 50%+ are looking to move, expect salary and wage costs to increase.

The Challenges

So given the above, the critical challenges for organizations today that want to get over that second wave are:

  • Recruiting.
  • Onboarding.
  • Engagement.
  • Growth path.

Recruiting

I have written before about recruiting and ways to make it better and more of a system. However, I think some of the critical factors to consider right now are:

  • Stand out above the crowd. How do you attract the best talent and not just one of the many looking for a new opportunity? To achieve this, you need to produce job ads that create interest in your organization and the opportunity to attract everyone, not only those considering moving. 
  • Using your employees, customers, and suppliers to help find new talent. These people all know you. They know your culture and values. So they are the best people to refer people to you if you are looking. However, first, you have to tell them what you need. If you have a great job ad, share it with them. Encourage your employees to refer people.
  • Employee testimonials on your website. Again I have mentioned this before, but it still amazes me how few companies have employee testimonials on their website. The first thing a prospect will do is go to your website to find out about your organization. Having no employee testimonials is not a good way to entice them. Worse is only having stock photos of employees other than the leadership team.
  • Ensure your reputation is good. Check Glassdoor and other sites to see what has been said about you. While you cannot always change the negative posts, understand them and be willing to address them in an interview.
  • Interviewing. With many people looking to move and the cost of replacing large, make sure that you are getting the right person. A term I prefer is “auditioning.” As many have said, the key is culture and values. Concerning ability, ensure they can do the job. Given how busy everyone is, it might be harder to defend hiring someone capable but requires training. However, getting the wrong person just because they have the skills is a more expensive proposition in the long run.

Onboarding

Onboarding is more critical than ever, and it is more challenging than ever with COVID. However, now you have to ensure that your new members can absorb your culture and values and know your strategy and expectations.

I have discussed onboarding with many CEOs and find that all are struggling to do it effectively. A few thoughts are:

  • Ensure they know your culture and values, and strategy first. With this knowledge, they can make better decisions that benefit the organization.
  • Ensure they understand what is expected of them and have regular check-ins for the first year to ensure that both of you are on the same track.
  • Understand their objectives and needs. These are both professional and personal, but you can build a plan together to help realize them if you know them. That is not to say the company has to give them more but enabling them to see that they have a path to what they seek will show interest on the organization’s part. Right now, several companies are offering an extra day off a month or large bonuses. Figure out what you can offer to make your employees feel appreciated and not cause trouble in your organization.
  • Make sure they feel welcome. Remember, a majority of people regret the move after the first day! Make sure your new employees don’t. 

Engagement

Keeping all employees engaged is key to keeping them, those that you have and those that you are hiring. That means they need to know:

  • The current situation. Your employees need to know where you are today. Now is time for the truth because they do know, just not necessarily from the leadership team. Telling them everything is okay when they see chaos around them means that the leadership team is out of touch with reality, and now is the time to move on.  
  • Where is the company going? Make sure they know the company’s BHAG and 3HAG. Knowing where you are going provides more energy for the task, and right now, we need everyone to paddle.
  • What is their role? Make sure they know their role in the organization. First, make sure they can answer the following:
  1. What do we do, and where am I in the process? 
  2. How do we make money, and what do I do that helps that? 
  3. How will we succeed?
  4. What is most important right now that my team has to do? 
  5. Who must do what? Accountability and reporting roles and 
  6. How can they help? Seek input from them regularly on how to improve processes and actions to perform better. It is incredible how often employees know a better way, but no one ever asks. However, please don’t ignore their feedback because they will never give it again. If you don’t want to use it, explain why.

Growth Plan

As part of the onboarding, understand what they want in their life. If they wish to grow to a new role in the next X years, help them develop a plan. If they are contented at their current position but want to move flexibility, work on that. Understanding their wants and needs shows interest by the company, and that builds attraction. If they feel you care about them, they will care about you. 

Given all that is happening, this is not the time for the Mushroom Theory of Management!

Finally, given that many people are thinking of leaving, if you can afford it, maybe this is the time to prune some of that deadwood.

Good luck paddling out, and I hope you make it through the set.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

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I often hear a variant of this in meetings with business leaders, when discussing their employees or the actions of their direct reports: “Why don’t they use common sense?” As Abraham Lincoln supposedly noted, “God must have loved the common man because he made so many of them,” then, surely, most of the decisions involve common sense.

We all think that all it takes is common sense; however, we all decide based on the information we have and the guides we use to make those decisions. Thus, for people to make better decisions, we need to ensure that they:

  • Are solving the right problem.
  • Have all the available information.
  • Know the “Intent.”

 

Solving the Right Problem

The first person to state a problem rarely has the best insight into the issue. However, once a problem is defined, our problem-solving and “get it done” nature kicks in, and we dive straight in. We don’t stop to ask, “Are we solving the right problem?” As a result, many decisions made solve the stated problem, but not the right one.

To prevent solving the wrong problem, make sure of the following:

  • You defined the problem and not someone else.
  • You are close to the problem.
  • You are thinking about the problem from many levels and angles.

 

Have all the Available Information

Having all the available information is challenging; however, I look to two military people to guide me. First, David Marquet, whose great advice is, “Move the decision-making to the information.” This ties in with being close to the problem above. So, move the decisions to the front lines, where people with all the available information about the situation are. The second person is John Boyd and his OODA loops, which I have written about before. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. I would say that having all the available information is a combination of Observe and Orient.

 

Observe

Here the purpose is to observe the situation to get the most accurate and comprehensive picture possible. Information alone is not sufficient; we need to take the data and put it into context. The real skill here is identifying what is “noise” and thus irrelevant for the current decision. Ensuring you can put all the information in the correct context requires asking questions to build a comprehensive picture.

At a simplistic level, this reminds me of two stories.

A little girl asked her mom where she came from. The mother responded with the full explanation of the birds and the bees. The little girl looked a little confused, so the mother asked why? “Well,” said the little girl, “Jill next door says she is from New York.”

A car stops next to someone walking down the street, and the driver asks for directions to the nearest interstate. The pedestrian responds with directions, and the driver goes off. However, the pedestrian should have asked, “Where do you want to go?” The interstate may not be the best solution or the quickest for where the driver wanted to go.

In both cases, questions upfront result in a better answer as they help understand the issue. However, we are programmed to answer, not to question!

 

Orient

Orientation is seeing the world as it is and removing the influences of cognitive biases and shortcuts. If you properly orient yourself, you can overcome disadvantages from less information or fewer resources. However, there are four barriers to the ability to orient effectively.

  1. Cultural traditions. Much of what we consider universal behavior is culturally prescribed.
  2. Genetic heritage. We all have certain constraints.
  3. Ability to analyze and synthesize. We fall back on old habits if we are faced with new types of thinking.
  4. The influx of new information. If the environment keeps changing, it is hard to determine what is going on.

To overcome these barriers, Boyd recommended “deductive destruction,” a process of understanding our biases and assumptions and developing mental models to replace them.

As Boyd put it, “Orientation isn’t a state you’re in; it’s a process. You are always orienting.”

 

Know the “Intent.”

You will notice that I didn’t say know the “Rules”, as I feel rules are too limiting. They tend to prescribe an exact situation, and if the situation changes, then a new rule is needed. Also, rules are easy to get around. Knowing the intent is a broader guide but makes it easier to understand.

A great example was GM when Mary Barra changed the corporate dress code. GM’s dress code was ten pages long, trying to cover everything. As a result, it was complex, and I doubt anyone read it. However, Mary Barra decided to change it to “Dress appropriately.” Before the change, someone would have to go through ten pages of rules to determine if an outfit met the code; now, they have to decide whether it meets the intent. Now Dress Appropriately on its own may have caused a few issues, but in discussions among teams to explain the purpose, it didn’t take long for everyone to understand what was required.

So, when I ask CEOs and business leaders, do they have organizational clarity, they respond, “Yes.” But when I ask the following:

  • What is your BHAG?
  • What is your passion?
  • What are your core values/expected behaviors?
  • Why do you exist?
  • What is your Strategy in a sentence?
  • What is your Brand Promise?
  • Who is your Core Customer?
  • How do you make money in a sentence?

Often, they cannot answer all these questions and think that many are trivial. Yet these are the “Intents” that provide organizational clarity. If you know the answers to all these questions, you know whether an action will support the organization or not.

However, the answers to the questions are the “Intent” that helps your team know what is expected of them. If everyone knows the same answer to all these questions, then it is more likely that they will make a decision that falls within the “Intent” and meets your definition of common sense.

Returning to David Marquet, he emphasized that for people to make good decisions:

  • They need to have control, e.g., make the decision so they take ownership of the problem. If you retain the power and don’t give it, your team members will never make the decisions you want.
  • They need to be competent. Do you have the “right people in the right seats?” If you do, then they should be able to make the decisions. If not, then it is not their issue, but yours. You have the wrong people running things.
  • Organizational Clarity. Or stated as “Is it the right thing to do?” If your people know the above guides’ answers, they will know if the action supports the organization’s purpose and goals.

So next time you feel your team is not making “common sense” decisions, ask yourself:

  • Are they solving the right problem?
  • Do they have all the available information?
  • Do they know the “Intent,” and is there organizational clarity?

I think you will find that something in the above is missing.

However, a warning! This course is not easy; you are giving up control, and to make it work, you have to allow them to make different decisions. If you keep snatching power back, it will fail. 

Once you decide to go down this path, ensure that the “Intents” are answered, and everyone knows the answer. Good luck.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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