Managing Partner at Blue Book Ventures. Inspirational Business Leader, Workplace Pundit, Best-Selling Author & Venture Capitalist
A Little About Me
Richard A. Moran is a San Francisco based business leader, workplace pundit, bestselling author, and venture capitalist. He is best known for his series of humorous business books beginning with bestselling, Never Confuse a Memo with Reality and is credited with starting the genre of "Business Bullet Books."
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Who made that decision?! Why can’t anyone make a decision around here? We just made a decision to sail away on the Titanic. The same decisions always means the same results…
Ever hear any thing like that?
The manner in which any organization makes decisions says a lot about that organization. The decision making process should broadcast what is important and the direction of the organization – for better or worse. How things are decided is so important that the process could be the key indicator as to the potential success of the organization. Watch decisions being made so that you can decide whether to stay or go. Decisions, decisions, decisions, here are six decision clues that will tell you a lot about your organization.
The Rock, Paper Scissors technique. Also known as the “Magic Eight Ball” technique. No matter what it is called, it shows management doesn’t know what the hell is going on and how to make a decision. It shows too that the organization is in trouble because they are guessing what might work. Imagine people turning over the Magic Eight Ball and seeing “Answer hazy, try again” so they keep turning it over.
The Mission Driven way. Probably the best way to build a successful organization and the most effective way to make decisions, assuming there is a mission. For example, if the mission is to save the planet, every single decision should further that cause. Every single one. (Also works for value driven organizations.)
The Crisis Driven way. Bouncing around from one crisis to the next one is not optimal. It’s hard to plan or do the real job when one is always in recovery mode and making decisions just to survive the latest crisis. Eventually a crisis will be so bad that there is no recovery.
The ‘Whatever’ way. Saying “whatever” when it comes to decision making usually means no one cares. As in, “Should we cut jobs in India or in Mexico?” If the response is “Whatever!” that is an organization that is adrift.
The ‘CYA’ method. (Cover Your Ass) Middle managers are often accused of making decisions in this way but it can be rampant in any organization. When everyone is protecting their own job not much good happens for the entire organization.
The Analysis driven way. Analysis is good but it is rarely the only criteria on which decisions should be made. It can also be an excuse to not make a decision because there is always more analysis to be made. Combine analysis with mission and there could be magic in decisions.
How decisions are made is a reflection on any organization and should cause you to reflect on whether or not it is the place you want to be. Your own decision making process can have a bearing too on your own satisfaction and success. Take decision making seriously.
Here’s the deal: Employees always know what’s going on in the organization so why not tell them? State the obvious.
After listening to thousands of employees in focus groups and surveys, two simple truths emerge: 1. Employees always know what is really going on; and, 2. Employees always want more communication from leadership. Then why do organizations go through the charade of trying to withhold information that people already know about? Some examples…
When there is a “major” restructuring but all senior team members keep their jobs, employees know that nothing much will change regardless of declarations to the contrary. One smart employee said about such a change, “It’s like rotating bald tires.” Another said, “Same old horses, same old glue.” It’s obvious that change won’t happen.
When there is a salary freeze or cuts in corporate travel or bonuses are not paid, the signals are that all is not well on the business front. Any communication to the contrary will be seen as pabulum. It’s obvious the financial performance is going in the wrong direction.
When teams are put together to come up with cost saving ideas it is a signal that people are about to lose their jobs because revenue and cost are not what they should be. It’s obvious that employees not engaged on those teams may lose their jobs.
When the holiday party is an extravaganza with big bands and lots of celebration, it means the sales team met their year-end goals and it was a good year. This is usually an easy thing to say. It’s obvious that hard work will be rewarded.
When the bankers and the lawyers are with the senior team in closed-door meetings all the time, either something good (like an IPO) is going to happen or something bad (like going out of business) is about to happen. State the obvious.
These are just a few common examples of activities that broadcast what is going on in the organization and what people see and believe. Employees are never clueless. In fact they can pick up on clues no matter how hard management tries to be obscure things.
Telling the truth is always a good place to start and end. Stating the obvious is the first step for truth seekers. Being totally transparent all the time might be too big a step since there are times when total confidentiality is required and respected like in the case of mergers and acquisitions. Employees don’t expect that level of openness. But when something is happening right in front of them and they can see what is happening, don’t try to fool them with happy talk.
“Telling it like it is” will always command more respect and credibility than trying to gloss over any bad news. And credibility is always that one trait of leadership that is valued above all others. Being on a team means there are wins and losses and team members are entitled to know what is happening. My experience is that people can take bad news if there is some line of sight as to how we are going to get out of this mess.
Try stating the obvious. Even though you may be telling people something they already know, they will appreciate it.
I have often heard the claim, “We Don’t Have a Corporate Culture Here!!!”
Yes you do. You just won’t admit it. It’s the first indicator of living in a culture that is where fun goes to die. The culture is what you walk into every day. Many academic definitions of corporate cultures exist but there are very simple ways to describe it. It’s the way things are done around here; it’s how decisions are made; it’s what it’s like to work here. If you walk in with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, that is a culture that should be packaged and spread to a bunch of other companies. If you walk in with a sense of dread and apprehension, it’s a culture that could stand some changes.
When I hear the declaration we don’t have a culture here it could mean several things:
1. We have a culture here but I don’t like it.
2. The culture here is changing and I don’t like it.
3. I refuse to recognize the culture that we have developed here.
In any case, the culture that does not want to be recognized is not one that makes one want to show up. Here is a straightforward list of just some cultures that people don’t want to recognize so the claim is that ‘we don’t have a culture here’.
The ‘Let them eat cake’ culture – In this world the leaders get all regardless of the performance of the company. Watch for the top people driving around in Range Rovers and flying first class while memos go out about elimination of free coffee. As history proves, there will either be a revolution or the company will fail. It’s a culture on the verge of chaos.
The ‘It’s only ten years to retirement’ culture – Ten years is a long time. When people are counting the days and years until retirement it is a sign of a culture that has people feeling trapped rather than feeling like they are doing meaningful work. Looking forward to retirement is a good thing; feeling like a prisoner is not. The culture full of people who feel stuck is depressing.
The ‘It ain’t love but it ain’t bad’ culture – Why look for something great when you can settle for something that is mind numbing? Mediocrity is contagious and a culture that settles for mediocrity will create a culture that is not going to grow a company. You can do better.
The ‘stick with the ship as it sinks’ culture – It may sound heroic to go down with the ship but it’s probably not. When you hear the phrase, “We are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” it is a sure sign that you are in a sinking ship culture. Could be time to bail out for a better organization with a better culture.
The ‘someday my ship might come in but I will be at the airport’ culture – An organization full of people who are waiting to be rescued is one where there is not a lot of commitment. Hope is not a strategy and waiting for something good to happen without action usually leads to disappointment. This is a culture where people are on LinkedIn all day hoping to be discovered instead of building a company.
Hundreds of other real cultures exist including empowered employees and market or customer driven ones. Those are the good ones. For lots of companies, a powerful culture is the hallmark of success.
Corporate cultures change and adapt to what is happening in the company but there is never “no culture here”. When you hear that, it’s a big red flashing light that something needs to change.