Solving the Decision Bottleneck In Two Essential (But Not So Easy) Steps
Imagine a single organization from the perspective of two different cultures: Culture Accountability and Culture Bottleneck.
In Culture A (Accountability), things get done quickly and efficiently. Executive teams are cohesive and managers know what is expected. As a result, managers run a tight ship and are quick to course-correct any activity, behavior or process that doesn’t align with the shared mission and vision. Managers are confident that their decisions will be supported by the executive team. Conversations, both vertical and horizontal, are focused on both process and people; results and relationships. Those who do not fit the culture leave on their own accord.
In Culture B (Bottleneck), bottlenecks create frustration. Decisions seem to be an afterthought and lack of trust precedes the need to micromanage. Managers fear making decisions because their decisions are often overridden. Executives complain that their managers never get the job done. On the front lines, turf wars and internal drama erupt spontaneously. Uncertainty, unexpected change and chaos color the culture. Conversations are avoided and poor performance is justified until something major happens and firing is the only option.
“At most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.”– Peter Drucker
All other things considered, there are two components that distinguish Culture A from Culture B: Clarity and Communication.
1. Clarity: How and who makes decisions
In every single instance of time-wasting drama, no matter how it manifests, at the root is a lack of clarity in some form.
On the front lines, when employees are unclear about what success looks like, they lose confidence and waste productive hours getting reassurance and clarification — procrastinating when uncertain. At the highest level, lack of clarity about the real problem or the desired end result wastes time and resources hiring vendors and consultants offering “one and done” workshops or other ineffective solutions.
Even when there is clarity about the real problem, the end result and the process, a big road-block I often see is the lack of clarity about who is in charge and how decisions are made.
For context, let me share a quick example. Years ago I was on a project for a mid-sized corporation. My inside contact, a high-level director, had absolutely no power to push the project forward. Because of this fact, any work I did had to be approved by the top executive who would continuously change calendar dates and, in doing so, would “delegate” the date changing to the director, who had to navigate calendars and multiple dates. I estimate we wasted at least 40 productive hours chasing down the real decision maker to make a change instead of setting up one phone call.
Increasing clarity inevitably increases your productivity and speed. Here are some suggestions for increasing speed by increasing decision-making clarity.
What to start doing
- After identifying the real problem and the desired outcome, take the necessary time to agree on how decisions will be made among top executives. Whether you are a co-owner or a team of C-suite executives, your organization’s success and your peace of mind is dependent upon your maturity to clarify your decision-making processes.
- Have a plan in place to maximize efficiency and decision making for those times when change happens.
- Give real decision-making authority to those to whom you delegate power.
What to stop doing
- Stop going rogue on your senior partners. Before you make a major decision, get alignment from your executive team.
- Stop delegating when delegation creates a bottleneck. Instead, hire an assistant to do the grunt work and let your director-level people get their own work done.
- Stop complaining about your employees and team members. If you find yourself complaining, set a time on the calendar to confront the issue with the person (or people) who needs to hear the conversation.
2. Communicate: Initiate clear conversations
The number-one problem I see that slows progress and efficiency is the inability or unwillingness of leaders to initiate what I call executive conversations. Executive conversations (as I define them) are both results- and relationship-oriented.
Many drama-laden cultures adopt an either-or mentality: a mindset that it’s all about results — anything for a profit, or it’s all about relationships — avoiding conflict at all costs. Both mindsets create accountability-related issues.
In his bestselling book, Advantage, Patrick Lencioni says:
“Many leaders struggle with accountability but don’t know it. Some will tell me that since they aren’t afraid to fire people, they must not have an accountability problem. Of course, this is misguided. Firing someone is not necessarily a sign of accountability, but is often the last act of cowardice for a leader who doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to hold people accountable. At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction which may not be pleasant.“
When there is a lack of accountability there is a lack of alignment, and when there’s a lack of alignment there’s a need for executive conversations.
What to start doing
- Increase your awareness of what is happening that should not be happening, and articulate it.
- Ask for the behavior or action you want directly and succinctly without blame.
- Keep the overall good of the organization in mind when you address the issue.
- State how the problem you perceive affects the revenues, productivity, team, client satisfaction or any other business case.
What to stop doing
- Stop holding grudges and realize that a grudge is a sure sign of a conversation that needs to happen.
- Get coaching support to learn how to initiate conversations that get results instead of resentment.
- Stop firing people before you’ve had the courage to have a couple of conversations. If you communicate effectively, they will either improve with some coaching, or they will eliminate themselves when they see they can’t cut the mustard. The good news is they will probably leave on friendly terms.
There are many factors that shape culture; however, it’s up to the senior leaders to eliminate the time-wasting bottlenecks that contribute to high-drama cultures. Get clear on the real problem and the desired end result. Clarify who is in charge and how decisions are made. Initiate executive conversations that are both relationship- and results-oriented to transform the Bottleneck Culture into a Culture of Accountability.