Why is there not MORE common sense

Why is there not MORE common sense

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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As I have said before, I expect COVID to be with us until Q3/Q4 2021, but call me a pessimist. Even so, we should expect to be here till the end of Q2 2021. So how are you planning for 2021? What got you here won’t get you there!

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As you begin the planning cycle, consider that COVID is an accelerant. Whatever were the major trends were in your industry at the end of 2019, take them forward ten years, that is where the industry is now! So where are you and where should you be?
Concerning where you are and where you need to be when COVID is over, you need to take a realistic look at your organization and do a gap analysis on:

  • strengths and weaknesses,
  • culture and core values,
  • human and capital resources,
  • processes and systems,
  • customers and buying habits,
  • product and service delivery,
  • suppliers, and
  • competition.

With that gap analysis, you can determine where to focus your attention, so that you can emerge from COVID in a leadership position. I am not going to go through all these today, but here are few things to consider.

Culture

Culture has never been more critical. If employees adhere to the company’s core values and live its culture, then provided they know the organizational goals, they can make the right decisions. Moving decision making down to the front lines is critical during the next twelve months as the environment changes quickly. Having the decision process moving up and down the organization is a luxury few can afford.

For a great reminder, look at Turn the Ship Around by Capt. below.

Further, reading “Adaptation under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime,” by Lt. General David Barno and Nora Bensahel, there are several crucial lessons for management.

  • Everyone Knew the Mission, not just the task. Post World War I, decentralized, independent battlefield actions, a tradition in German military thinking, returned and became a central tenet of German army doctrine. Mission orders were regularly emphasized and practiced during peacetime training exercises.
  • Continuous Improvement. The German army established the culture of relentlessly critiquing its leaders and units’ performance in exercises and war games. Commanders and staff officers at all levels were expected to do so candidly and objectively, without regard to personal embarrassment or potential career damage. This candor extended to critiquing the performance of senior officers and higher headquarters as well. These principles made German doctrine inherently adaptable in the face of battle.
  • Changing the rules of the Game. The French army believed the next war would be the same as WWI. French interwar thinking focused primarily on leveraging defensive operations to prevail in any future conflict. Thus, they undertook no “no large-scale examination of the lessons of the last war by a significant portion of the Officers Corps.” In contrast, the Germans examined how to use new technologies to change the “Rules of the Game” and win using offensive operations. They improved their Blitzkrieg tactics that had great success in World War II.

I would bring these lessons into your organization as part of any new model to succeed. Regarding business Blitzkrieg offensives, I would look to John Boyd and his OODA Loop as a better model.

Process and Systems

As you examine your processes and systems, I would recommend asking, “If we didn’t do it this way, would we?” and “Will these systems get us to where we need to be?” In many cases, with the acceleration that has been experienced, the answer may be no. Thus, put together multifunctional teams together to examine these and use different problem-solving models, as I mentioned in “Want the Best Results, Get out of your Comfort Zone.” Some I would look to are:

  • Get out of your comfort zone. Change the environment or put limitations on the team. Use Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, where each card puts a constraint on the team to help too when teams are struggling to break through a problem. They are available on Amazon.
  • Break your business process down to its most simplified version, e.g., ship a product to a customer and then work on new solutions. The more you define the process in the question, the more you are tied to that system in the solution. By being most simple, you can expand the range of solutions.
  • New ideas, enforce the rule that you cannot challenge any idea until 100 are developed. This rule stops the thought process from being shut down early by those that oppose change, and often the craziest ideas come at the end, but a gem of something great.
  • Also, in examining systems, take a look at Tom Wujec’s TED Talk, “Got a Wicked Problem, First Tell Me How You Make Toast,” below.

Using these problem-solving methods, if done correctly, could provide an additional benefit, reinforcing your culture and camaraderie among your employees, which has been challenging to do during our COVID work from home.

Contact me if you need help facilitating any of these processes as you look ahead as I wish you all the best succeeding in 2022 and beyond.

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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