I was coaching a senior management team of a successful technology company. The management team wasn’t operating or being viewed as a strong leadership team. One of the main complaints managers and employees had was that the senior team didn’t make enough clear decisions in areas that needed change, especially in areas of divide and conflict, where tough and uncomfortable decisions were needed. In addition, when the leadership team did make decisions the leaders often didn’t do a good job following up and executing on what they had agreed to and decided. So, decisions were often ignored, forgotten or pushed aside and deprioritized due to the day-to-day burning topics that constantly came up.
After dealing this dynamic for a few years, leaders, managers, and employees got used to the status quo and many simply adopted a cynical mindset about decisions. In fact, people stopped expecting and/or demanding clear decisions or effective execution of decisions.
There were enough decisions made to continue to drive progress and success. In addition, the company was a leader in its market, so things were tolerated. However, in many critical areas where decisions were needed and not taken, people had to find ways to get things done in alternative ways, for example: relying on personal relationships, improvising or simply working harder rather than smarter.
This organization was a good organization. But the lack of effectiveness in making and keeping decisions was preventing it from going to the next level and becoming the great organization it strived to be.
So, I worked with this senior team and through a series of steps over the course of our engagement together, I helped them drive great improvement in their unproductive predicament.
The process and steps we used were transformational. In fact, you could apply them to any transformation you wish to undertake in your own team or reality. Furthermore, these steps could even be used for your own personal breakthroughs too. So, I am sharing them with you.
If you want to take on a transformation in your own team in any area follow these following steps:
- Face reality and tell the truth, especially about what isn’t working.
Every breakthrough begins with facing reality and telling the truth, especially about what is not working. To that end, I conducted a culture analysis where I interviewed all the leaders, as well as a handful of managers and employees. People were very forthcoming and blunt about the challenges and hardships associated with the leaders’ lack of decision making and follow through. I shared the grim outcome of the interviews with the leaders and had them fully understand and own the reality that they had created, both in terms of organizational effectiveness and productivity, as well as people’s spirit and their own reputation.
- Commit to the transformation you want. Once the senior leaders took responsibility for their lack of making and keeping decisions, they committed to transforming their weakness. They committed to a future state, within 12 months in which they are really good at making and keeping decisions and commitment. In fact, as part of their 12 months future stated they specifically promised to be recognized throughout their organization as a role model in this area.
- Promise specific actions and practices for turning your future goal into reality.
The leadership team committed to simple practices. Here are some of them: (1) Every dialogue will lead to a clear decision and promised action, (2) Each commitment will have a deadline assigned to it (a “by when”), (3) Each decision will have a clear owner who is responsible for the fulfillment of the commitment, (4) All decisions and commitments will be written up and sent out to the leaders, and (5) Every other week the team will dedicate 30-60 minutes to review status of all decisions/commitments still in play.
- Track and manage your promised actions over time.
Every other week the team came together and took stock on their progress. They reviewed every decision and commitment they made and whether or not they kept them. They even run a tally of “number of decisions/commitments made,” and “percentage of decisions/commitments kept.” They turned this “soft” area into a “hard” one by assigning metric to it. If there is an art and science to decision/commitment making and keeping, they highlighted the science aspect.
- Expand on what is working and correct what isn’t working.
The leaders took this transformation on like a military initiative. They stayed focused and didn’t let anything slide. If they fell short, stumble or outright failed in a decision or commitment they took responsibility and acknowledged it right away, and made the necessary correction. At first, the leadership team focused on the easier, smaller, shorter-term decisions/commitments. However, as they became better at this they started to make bigger, tougher and more strategic decisions.
- Continue until your new behaviors become your new norm and DNA.
We continued this for many months until the focus and skill of the senior team around making and keeping decisions/commitments became ingrained in the leaders’ awareness and DNA. In addition, one of the by-products of this transformation initiative was that the same new behavior started to trickle down to the managers and employees. At some point, it became clear that the initiative had fulfilled its purpose and it was no longer necessary to track this new area the way we did thus far.
There are many leadership competencies that shape, define and distinguish a powerful and effective team. I believe that one of the biggest ones is the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments. Furthermore, a team that lacks the ability to make and keep decisions and commitments lacks a fundamental integrity; the integrity to think and operate cohesively and generate accomplishments that are larger than the sum of their parts.
So, if you want to create an environment where your intentions and commitments regularly get realized faster, smoother and even bigger than your expectations, make sure your team is really good at making and keeping decisions and commitments.