If you’re a leader, then you’re responsible for decision-making. Which is why it we have a whole section on Problem Solving tools on the blog. Today’s insight comes from peanuts in the shell – a concession staple at just about any baseball game!
So think about the last time you purchased a bag of these tasty treats. As you shelled the peanuts, did you put the empty shells back in the same bag? Chances are you didn’t, likely for a couple of reasons. One, because it instinctively doesn’t make sense to put the waste in with the good peanuts, and two (and perhaps more importantly), every time you put the unwanted shells back in the bag, you reduce your chances of getting a good peanut the next time you reach in.
How does this apply to decision-making in the workplace?
There is a workplace equivalent to this scenario, having to do with decision-making. As a leader, you are charged with making a variety of decisions, often requiring you to select the best choice from a number of possible options. Using this metaphor, it makes sense to discard choices as you evaluate them as unsuitable. Why put them back in the bag where they’ll just continue to muddle and reduce the efficacy of your decision-making? But that’s exactly what we often do. Continue reading
The sorites paradox: if individual grains of sand are removed one at a time from a hypothetical heap of sand, what is the point at which the heap can no longer be considered a heap? At first glance, you may think that this is merely a philosophical question, but the metaphor has great applicability if you carry it into the workplace. Consider this: if minor seemingly harmless problems or changes go unnoticed and do not individually attract attention, is there a possibility that eventually the sum total of these issues over time will result in a major setback? And what if the significant outcome is one that, if it would have happened all at once, would have been regarded as negative, undesirable or objectionable?
In the workplace, the sorites paradox is often referred to by a variety of synonyms – creeping normality, the broken window theory, the boiling frog syndrome, and even death by a thousand cuts. But no matter what you call the phenomenon, all versions lead to a Continue reading
The self-serving bias is a concept that has been extensively studied in social psychology. Essentially, it is people’s tendency to attribute positive events to their own character but attribute negative events to external factors. It’s a common type of cognitive bias that exists in all aspects of life, including in the workplace.
For example, a salesperson who attributes a significant sale to his own business insight and relationship-building skills, but attributes a loss of a sale to the customer’s lack of acumen or the competitor’s unfair advantage may be exhibiting the self-serving bias. Similarly, a leader’s inclination to take credit for the team’s success, but to blame individual team members for mistakes or missteps is another common example of self-serving bias.
The self-serving bias can negatively impact decision-making
The problem of course with the self-serving bias is that it can negatively affect organizational decision-making. For example, Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on decision-making here on the blog, and I was reminded of that recently when I read the following quote about worrying:
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”
― Erma Bombeck
These words were penned by Erma Bombeck, an American humorist, whose syndicated columns were read twice-weekly in the 1970s by 30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Even though Erma’s columns were written primarily from the perspective of a midwestern suburban housewife, this particular adage carries sage advice for leaders.
Leadership is a non-stop journey of dealing with issues, some everyday problems, others full-blown crises. This constant barrage of concerns, complications and quarrels can leave many a leader anxious, uneasy and constantly worried … about what went wrong, what is wrong, and what could go wrong. And even worse is when these very same leaders fool themselves into thinking that worrying is actually doing “something” about the issues at hand. It isn’t.
Stop worrying, do this instead
So instead of worrying, consider this two alternative (and more constructive) strategies. Continue reading
“We need to wait until we have all the facts …” is something I hear many managers and supervisors say. It’s often in response to an issue that needs to be dealt with or an unexpected problem that has occurred. Usually the situation is a difficult one and because the manager has no prior experience with making decisions in an identical or similar scenario, s/he is stalling for time. The unfortunate reality of course is that if you wait for all the facts, you might be waiting for a really (really) long time; perhaps even an eternity.
When it comes to making decisions, you will never have all the facts
Leadership is about making decisions – it’s inherent in the role of a leader. The reality is that there are very few instances in which leaders will have complete information … ever. Whether it is predicting customer behaviour, forecasting sales volumes, expecting employees to act in certain ways, or anticipating your competitors’ activities, you will simply never have all the facts. Which means that the real question is Continue reading
Last year, I wrote a short series of posts on specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making. This story about a Swedish warship from the early 1600’s emphasizes not only the importance of approaching your team and experts to seek advice, but to also pay heed to the advice once you’ve heard it.
The tale of the Vasa: one king’s folly
In 1626, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered the building of the Vasa, a new warship that was intended to become, for that era, the most powerful marine vessel in the Baltic Sea. As was common in warships then, the Vasa was to have a rank of cannons on each side of the boat so that soldiers could easily fire at their attackers, no matter what direction the assault came from.
King Adolphus considered himself something of an expert boat designer so he took an immense interest in the actual design of the ship. About mid-way during the ship’s two year construction, he learned that Poland, his greatest archenemy (and rival to take control of the Baltic Sea), had stepped up their naval firepower by building warships with ranks of cannons on two levels. Well, Adolphus wasn’t going to be outdone! Continue reading
In my practice, I am routinely asked by leaders in organizations for the definitive factors that lead to team effectiveness. After all, leaders in every organization want to know what it takes to create high-performing work groups that not only exceed objectives but also play well in the sandbox together. Well Google wanted to know the answer to this question as well, so in 2012 it embarked on an ambitious two-year project to codify the secrets of team effectiveness. Code-named Project Aristotle, this sizeable initiative, in true data-crunching Google style, set out to study and analyze over 180 of Google’s internal teams to figure out why some stumbled while others soared.
Google’s Project Aristotle
Julia Rozovsky is an analyst in Google People Operations, and here is what she had to say about Project Aristotle.
Over two years we conducted 200+ interviews with Googlers (our employees) and looked at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. We were pretty confident that we'd find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team -- take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at AngularJS, and a PhD. Voila. Dream team assembled, right? We were dead wrong!
There are some people who look for problems, and some who look for solutions. I call the former nay-sayers, and the latter yea-sayers. Which one are you? Before you answer, let me explain.
In the workplace, each one of us routinely encounters problems – a product or process isn’t working quite the way it should, or no longer meets the stated need, a new initiative requires a different way of thinking or of doing things, or you’re trying to accomplish a stretch goal. Whatever the situation, we often have to count on others for information, assistance or know-how. So we pose the problem, often in the form of a question. Some people immediately respond with “it can’t be done”, frequently followed by nothing … that’s right, end of discussion, no further conversation. These are nay-sayers. Yea-sayers on the other hand Continue reading
As leaders, our days are often about solving problems, usually one after the other. For that reason, this topic of solving problems comes up often on the blog. In fact, my last post on this subject was exactly month ago (Making risky decisions: a simplified approach). Today’s post is on this very subject, but my insight on an approach to solving problems came from an unexpected source.
What an adventure!
Last month I had the opportunity to do something very few people are fortunate enough to do – I was able to hike out (six miles over some of our planet’s most punishing terrain, but that’s not the fortunate part!) to the edge of an active lava flow on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and stand less than 20 feet away watching the molten rock slink and slither its way across the blistering earth. Eventually this hot rock makes its way to the ocean, creating new shoreline hour by hour, day by day. I filmed about 45 seconds of this experience on my iPhone, and you can see the video with my brief audio commentary below:
It was exhilarating to watch the raw power of the earth, up close and personal, and I found that 90 fascinating minutes fled by in what seemed like seconds. Once I got over the initial elation of the experience though, I noticed that the flow was continuously changing course. Continue reading
Back in 2012, I posed this question on the blog: When your employee comes to you with a problem, do you tell or do you ask? My point was that so many leaders have the tendency to “solve” our employees’ issues rather than coaching our employees to resolve the problems themselves. Over the years, I have discovered one very simple, yet powerful, phrase can make the difference. Ask: What do you think?
A powerful coaching moment
When an employee comes to you with an issue, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to provide an answer. Instead, use the opportunity to create a very powerful coaching moment. The chances are high that your employee already has a very good idea as to what the solution should be, and only really wants to discuss it with you and get your concurrence. When you ask “What do you think?”, you are opening the door for a dialogue that not only will lead to a solution, but will also build your employee’s self-confidence as well as enhance problem-solving skills. Continue reading