Follow the Yellow Brick Detour

Sometimes, reality bites.

Sometimes it’s just a nip at the ankle.

Other times, reality bites your hand.

And other times it jumps up and bites us in the back side.

One way that reality bites is when plans should go one way, but somehow take a detour and go another way in a totally wrong direction that leads to a dead-end. When this happens, we scratch our heads and wonder if somehow we woke up in the middle of “Opposite Day.”

Business Case

When organizations get into trouble with their businesses, the job of the leaders is to recognize what is happening and make the necessary changes to get things back on course. They need to be able to understand their current conditions and see what steps need to be taken by creating effective plans and strategies. Leaders should use all the resources at their disposal to execute their planning so that they have the best shot at correcting their course.

Using both internal talents and outside consultants, the leaders responsibility is to get the best plan at the most reasonable cost.

As a business consultant who works with organizations on developing plans for them, I am called upon to help create effective plans that implement positive changes. After working hard to develop a plan for a client, I recently “got bitten by reality.” The reality was that a client who clearly needed to change course “decided not to decide” on my new plan.

They loved the plan that I created and agreed that it would work, but they took a detour into no-man’s land. Even after an exhaustive search for potential vendors to create a plan to help them change course, the decision was made to…make no decision.

They were headed down the yellow brick road to a better place, but somehow got off track and took a detour.

Decision Making

The client loved the plan, but didn’t want to use it. What is that all about, I wondered?

To get my answers as to why the client “decided not to decide” to change, I did what all good consultants do; I did a Google search and asked my peers for the answer.  Here is what I found:

  • Companies take, on average 15% longer to come to decisions about vendors, strategy and organizational changes (2009 Right Management Survey)
  • 20% of companies, on average, decide that the best course of action is no action when deciding on strategy, vendors and organizational changes
  • Internal decision-making processes add, on average, 10 to 20% more time to complete contracts, negotiations, etc.

Discovering this information made me even more curious.  Why would that be?  What could be the cause of this institutional analysis paralysis?  After some more conversation, research, and interviews I found some more fascinating facts:

Fear Factor

It seems natural that companies are hesitant to make decisions because there is a lack of trust in (and for) the organization. In addition, the very people tasked to make decisions are too scared of making the wrong one.

What Can Be Done?

Here are 6 ways to help your organization become more effective in making decisions.

1.  86 the process

It is often said that nothing kills creativity like a good process.  Approval processes can be vital to success for large organizations.  They can help to manage cost and ensure accountability.  But, once a process is in place it tends to take on a life of its own.

At times the process becomes so burdensome, that it is easier to just keep the status quo rather than bucking the system. It is important that questions like “Why are we doing this?” be asked on a regular basis.  There should be no process that isn’t scrutinized.

2. Encourage or Force Choice

This is tricky.  This requires managers and leaders to allow employees to make decisions or select new ways to doing things and rewarding them for doing so. This is not the norm for many organizations, departments, or teams.  Reward employees for making decisions.  Support them. Use the decision-making process as a learning opportunity. It will become a practiced skill that they will gain expertise the more they do it.

3. Take Actions To Increase Trust

Every effort should be made to increase trust on a regular basis.  Patrick Lencioni, the author of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, has shown that the foundation of every successful team is trust.  But, it is often the first area where many teams fail.  There is not an emphasis on trust at organizations where it vanishes so quickly. In order to create high performance organizations building trust is paramount.

4.  Keep Changing

A great lesson can be learned from Ingar Skaug.  He was the CEO of Wilh. Wilhelmsen Lines, ASA a major ship building company.  Through tragedy he helped his company transform itself.  Although very successful ASA had become stagnant and resistant to change.  Skaug knew that this would be its downfall.  He encouraged decision-making that lead to change.

5. Align Culture to Strategy

Lack of decision and indecisiveness comes from being unclear on the path.  The decision of whether to go right or left can be paralyzing, if you do not know what the best path to take.  Leaders have to make sure that they are uncovering the dimensions of their culture and working towards aligning that to the organizational strategy.  Of course, it is necessary to have a strategy first.  It does not have to be a “we will change the world” strategy, but something that tells people where you intend to go.  This should inform every action and be the arbiter of decisions.

6. Have Fun

“Hardly a day goes by without reading an interview with a prominent executive or hearing a knowledgeable observer suggest that having fun at work is important for employee morale and productivity” ~ Robert C. Ford

People are relaxed when they are having fun.  They are confident and more willing to make decisions.  Not to say that it should be party, but fun.  Iron-clad, rule oriented organizations stay stagnant.

Taking these small actions at every level of the organization will increase the speed and ability to make decisions.  It is not a guarantee of perfect decisions.  That is not and should not be the goal.  People in organizations need to be good at deciding and acting.  The old child’s tale about the tortoise and the hare misses the point. The hare was fast but unfocused. If the hare had been intent on winning, the tortoise would have been left in the dust.

Don’t you wish your organization was the nimble hare? Do you want to help your leaders and teams be more decisive. Are you building a culture of trust, reward, and risk-tolerance that allows for healthy decision-making? What are some others ways that you can help keep your teams on the yellow-brick road to a better place?

Bookmark Follow the Yellow Brick Detour

Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email |LinkedIn|Web |Blog |888-999-0940 x-730

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4 responses to “Follow the Yellow Brick Detour

  1. Sir,

    This article gives an excellent insight into how certain small things hold significant importance. It also helps me gain insight as to how HR can be instrumental in d organization. Thank you for sharing your views with us, I am sure it will help us in the long run.


    Priyanka Datta


  2. Anil,

    I like your top 6 ways to help companies make decisions. Trust and buy-in is very important. Also, my experience shows that the decision makers (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.) have to be on board relative to the change. In addition, the risk and reward needs to be succinctly identified to show the value of making the changes, along with how it will positively affect the bottom line. Thanks for the post.

    Mark Fryer


    • Mark,
      Thanks for the comments. Funny that I just came back from working with a client that is going through a HUGE organization change. The senior team is not aligned. I am hoping they can make this work, but it takes them working together. Great comment, thanks!


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