In visiting with thousands of leaders in dozens of industries over the past two decades one thing is clear: the people who are expected to make fast, tough decisions are rarely trained how to do so. As a result, costly “gut” decisions are wrongly made, or indecision prevails in areas that end up costing the company plenty. While there is not a one-size-fits-all mechanism for making tough decisions, attendees to my workshops have found it useful when I present a series of filters to help them assess tough situations realistically, and make the tough call necessary for the organization to move forward.
While there’s not space for all the scenarios I provide in a seminar setting, the following have wide applicability and should help you to immediately reassess and act on areas you’ve been pondering. Some of these filters apply strictly to personnel assessment, and others address strategies, policies and more.
The people who are expected to make fast, tough decisions are rarely trained how to do so.
The hope vs. wish filter. Are you hoping or wishing for improvement?
You can become immobilized wondering just how much longer to work with an under- performing person, strategy, policy, vendor and more. This filter may clear it up for you:
A. Hope is defined as grounds for believing something in the future will occur. In other words, you could take the case to court and win based on evidence things are headed in the right direction:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here are my grounds for believing this under performer is on the right track and will become a success with our company: he has developed this productive habit; broken this unproductive habit; made the following positive attitude adjustment; developed this new skill, improved these two current skills, and his performance of the past three months, while only marginally better, is headed in the right direction.
Without “grounds for believing”—specific evidence like that presented—you’re not hoping, you’re wishing, and wishing is an unacceptable strategy for growing your organization.
So you can appreciate the contrast between genuine hope and foolish wishes, consider the definition of wish: a strong desire for something to occur that probably will not. Obviously, the key difference between hoping and wishing is “grounds for believing.”
You can use the same hope vs. wish filter to assess marketing messages and mediums, hiring and training strategies and more. Consider a decision you’ve been stuck on: Other than the fact you want it to work out, what grounds for believing do you have that tomorrow will be any different than today?
The advocate, apathetic, or saboteur filter.
When you present a change to your team—a new goal, policy, strategy, pay plan and the like—not everyone will respond the same way. It’s important to have a filter to discern the four primary groups of people and devise a strategy for each.
A. Advocates. This group favors the change, and will speak well of it and you. It’s essential that you do all you can to make sure key influencers are in this group before you announce anything major to the group overall. If they are, you’ll have momentum and instant traction. If they’re not, the change is dead on arrival.
B. Apathetics. This group isn’t as bad as it sounds. These folks won’t do anything to derail or stall the change, but they won’t do anything to help it either. True to their name they are apathetic, and sometimes they have reason to be: they’ve seen so many flavors of the month come and go in the past that they’re going to sit on the sideline to see if this one is for real before getting emotionally invested. Do your job, follow through and these people will come on board.
C. Saboteurs. These people are trouble and will try to overtly or covertly skew your efforts. Sometimes they do it in obvious ways by challenging you publicly, and other times they do it with more stealth by planting seeds of doubt and resistance in the “meeting after the meeting” you can expect them to conduct.
Saboteurs are cancers and must be addressed quickly, privately and firmly. If you can’t gain agreement they’re on board you may have to let them go; especially if this is a major change. Otherwise, they’ll manifest as cultural cancers that will undermine team morale, momentum, efforts and your personal credibility.
D. Honest skeptics. These folks have legitimate questions, differences or concerns they want cleared up before buying in and moving forward. This DOES NOT mean they’re saboteurs. If you address their concerns effectively and show what you’re doing is effective and beneficial you will win them over. If not, they can descend into the saboteur ranks.
By understanding these groups you can devise a strategy for each and decide how to best move change forward in your organization.
The “Three T’s” filter.
An exercise I’ve taught for decades is rooted in zero-based thinking; determining if you were starting over from zero would you do what you’re doing now. This works well when evaluating the performance of people on your team. Here’s how:
Go through each name on your team and ask, “Knowing what I now know about “Fred”, if he applied for the job today would I hire him?” If the answer is “yes,” great; go to the next name. If the answer is some version of, “Are you kidding me?” you can apply the Three T’s filter:
A. Train. This is the first and best option. If you don’t believe they’ve had the training or coaching to succeed, do your job.
B. Transfer. This is not an option for someone with unsatisfactory character, attitude, drive, or energy as it’s more likely they need a change of self than a change of scene. It is an option for someone who is mis-employed because he lacks the talent for a given position and would be a better fit elsewhere.
C. Terminate. If the first two options won’t work, and you’ve renounced the pervasive and costly “fourth T”—tolerate—it’s time to move on.