What to Do Before You Start Making Decisions

What you need to do before you start the decision-making process

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Decisions Before You DecideWe make decisions every day; small ones, big ones, unusual ones, specific or general and those which have become a force of habit.  We get so involved in the decision itself that we become blind to the key dimensions that surround it. So what are they, why are they important and how can we use them to help us make better and more effective decisions?

The Four Key Dimensions

There are four key dimensions which need to be considered when making a decision.  This includes:

  1. Composition: Who should be involved in the decision-making process?  You need to make sure you have the right people, with the right information, who can contribute and develop the necessary decision.4 Dimensions of Decision-Making
  2. Context: In what type of environment does the decision take place?  Is it an open environment that fosters open, constructive dialogue?  Or a closed environment in which personal interests supersedes those of the group?
  3. Communication: What are the “means of dialogue” among the participants?  Does it involve considerable direct discussion with those with relevant knowledge and expertise, or is it ‘filtered’ through reports from senior people in the hierarchy?  Are there face-to-face meetings or is it via phone, email, reports etcetera?
  4. Control: How will the leader control the process and the content of the decision?
  • Control of the Process how do you want to shape the way that the deliberations are undertaken and followed;
  • Control of the Content how much do you want to control the outcome of the decision

This last factor- Control – is the hardest, and has the greatest impact on the decision.

A Balanced Approach

A balance between control of the process and control of the content is required.  Too little or too much control of the process and/or the content will result in sub-optimal decisions.  Some of the impacts of low or high levels of control on the process or content are shown below.

Impact of the Level of Control of Content & Process in Decision-Making

 Decisions and Control

So how can we achieve a balance in controlling both the process and content of a decision?  There are three steps:

 3 Steps for a Balanced Approach

1.      Be Clear on the Decision

Are you clear on what the decision is that you are making is?   For example, you are looking at how to improve your retention of key customers.  This is not a decision; this is a problem that needs to be solved.  Be careful not to confuse decisions with problems.

2.      Know What Objectives & Outcomes You Want to Achieve

Have a clear understanding of where you want to be as a result of the decision you have made.  Knowing this will help you understand what expertise and information you need, from whom you need to get it, and the people who should be involved.

3.      Have Checks & Counter-Balances

You will find that you and others involved in the decision-making process will fall into common decision-making traps or errors of judgement.  Understanding them, and how to avoid them will provide you with the means to check your collective thoughts, ideas and insights and reduce the likelihood of your decision being subverted.

Use this as a checklist – make sure you address the four dimensions: Composition, Context, Communication and Control – and build the means for better decisions.  Will you share this with your colleagues and those who participate in your decision-making processes?

It’s your decision.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

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Discipline Without Punishment

“We need to understand the difference between discipline and punishment, Punishment is what you do to someone; discipline is what you do for someone” – Zig Ziglar

Disciplining people has always been a difficult matter for managers with many being uncomfortable with its adversarial nature. This often leads to the performance or behavioral issue being avoided and left unaddressed (which exacerbates the problem), being addressed inconsistently (which makes the manager seem week and the process unjust), or being handled poorly (which damages the relationship and creates an on-going problem). Rarely is the discipline process handled well!

The traditional progressive discipline approach is certainly unpleasant. It breeds resentment and hostility. But the traditional system is flawed in two ways: firstly, it tends to exclusively rely on punishment, and secondly it is insufficiently demanding on the person being disciplined. Punishments used, such as warnings, reprimands, suspensions without pay, only produce compliance which only works in the short-term and is ineffective. You want commitment, and you cannot punish people to gain commitment.

So how can you discipline people effectively without resorting punishment? And how, in doing so, can you gain commitment from the employee to perform and behave to those standards which are expected?

Before we go into this there is one caveat, we are assuming that you have and follow a documented disciplinary process. If not, you need to develop this as soon as possible, so that the process is clear and transparent to everyone (managers and employees), and that you are consistent in your treatment of people.

This new approach is progressive, as problems became more serious so the responses became more serious. But instead of using punishments, the focus is on engaging the individual in agreeing to change. They are being treated as an adult, not as a poorly behaving child. The focus is on requiring the individual to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and to make the decisions for himself or herself.

Often the final step in a traditional disciplinary process, before termination, is an unpaid disciplinary layoff. In this approach, this is replaced with a paid disciplinary suspension.

How It Works – The Paid Disciplinary Suspension
Upon reaching the final step in this new system, the employee is told that he would be suspended from work on the following day. He was told that he must return on the day after the suspension having made a final decision: either to solve the immediate problem and make a total commitment to fully acceptable performance in every area of his job, or to quit and find more satisfying work someplace else. The company bears the cost of this paid day as a sincere demonstration of its desire to see the employee change and stay. However, the employee is told that if he decides to stay, and there is another disciplinary problem, then he or she will be terminated. In essence, his or her future is in his or her own hands, it is their choice to make, and the company will accept his or her decision. Fundamentally, the choice is either to change and stay; or quit and find opportunities elsewhere.

Advantages of Discipline without Punishment

  • Cooling-off period – it allows both sides to calmly reflect on the situation,
  • Provides a dramatic gesture – the suspension period forces the employee to face the facts; face unemployment or correct your behavior.
  • Defensive – should an employee be fired and then challenge the action the company has a clear and demonstrable process that the employee was fully aware of the situation and the alternatives, and that the employee made their choice.
  • Demonstrates good faith – this shows the individual that the business is serious in its intent.
  • It makes life easier for managers – many managers are loathed to take disciplinary action. This process makes it easier as the onus for the decision to stay or leave is the employee, not the manager.
  • It’s appropriate for any job – whether the employee is at the front-line, middle-management or in the upper echelons of the business it is equally applicable and transparent.
  • It reinforces your values – most organizations take pride in being fair employers. This allows you to be so without punishing people in a way that compromises the spirit of your values.

So will you keep discipline without punishment? Make people responsible and accountable for their performance and actions, and help them decide what to do – whether to leave or to commit to change and improve their performance and how they behave.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

3 Steps to Help Your Managers Prepare for Difficult Conversations

In times of challenges and uncertainty, supervisors might be experiencing an increase in the number of difficult conversations with their staff. These could include delivering bad news about an employee’s job, informing staff about work restructuring, or discussing other complicated and stressful work situations.

  1. Preparing for the conversation

Before going into the conversation, ask yourself several key questions. Consult with peers, and other appropriate resources to be sure you’re comfortable with the answers.

Key questions include:

  • What is my purpose for having the conversation?
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • What is the ideal outcome?
  • What assumptions am I making about the other person’s reaction to the conversation?
  • What “hot buttons” exist – for me and for the other person?
  • How is my attitude toward the conversation contributing to the intended outcome?

Practice the conversation. You can mentally rehearse it in your mind, or practice it out loud with your supervisor, Employee Assistance Program, or Human Resources.

  1. Holding the conversation

A successful outcome will depend on two things: what you say and how you say it. How you approach the conversation and how you behave will greatly influence what you say and how it is perceived.

Acknowledge any emotional energy that might be fueled by the conversation. The emotional content is as important as the facts.

Keep aligned with the purpose of your conversation. Don’t be distracted by side tracks.

Suggestions for opening the conversation include:

  • “I’d like to talk to you about. . .”
  • “I want to better understand your point of view. Can we talk more about. . .”
  • “I’d like to talk about ________. I think we may have different ideas on how to ______.”

 

  1. Working Toward a Successful Outcome

Approach the conversation with an attitude of inquiry and discovery. Set aside assumptions and try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view. Let the employees complete what they have to say without interruption.

Acknowledge that you’ve heard what the other person is trying to say. The best way to do this is to repeat their argument back to them. You don’t have to agree. Saying “it sounds like this issue is very important to you” doesn’t mean that you have to decide the way they’d like you to.

Advocate for your position without diminishing theirs. State your position concisely and clarify points they may not have understood.

End with problem solving. Find mutual areas where you can agree on solutions and identify what steps need to be taken. If there is no common ground, return to inquiry.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Five Ways to Generate Opportunities and Possibilities

There is only one way to generate real opportunities and possibilities that can take you to the next level, whatever that may be for you. And that is to take action.

Here are five ways to accelerate your ability to take action:

  1. “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try “– Yoda (Star Wars)

A great quote that makes a powerful point.  If you are going to do something, then DO it! Don’t wait around, even worse don’t say “I will” or “I can” – although they are intentional they lack intent. Intent is only apparent in action, so take action.

  1. Be Present

You can only exist in the present, and similarly you can only take action in the present. Action in the past cannot be changed, and action in the future is planning only. Take action, and do it NOW!

  1. Be Focused

Focus on what you can do and what you can influence. Don’t focus on what you cannot do or cannot control, it will only waste your time and effort and drain your motivation. Focusing on what you can do and can influence will help you gain traction and accelerate results.

  1. Visualize What You Want

This is not just wishing for something to happen. When you visualize you walk through, in your mind, every step that you are going to go through (and what will happen in each step). You don’t just imagine it – you see it, feel it, her it, touch it, and taste. Make it real in your mind.  The fact is that your brain cannot distinguish between what happens to you in real life and what you visualize in your mind. Visualizing helps you to do what needs to be done effectively when you actually take action. Practice visualizing what you are going to do which will help you get you what you want.

  1. Stop Procrastinating

Procrastinating uses and wastes your most precious resource, your time. Time once spent can never be regained. Often people procrastinate in the hope that a problem or issue will go away, or that someone else will sort it out for them. Get used to the fact that this very rarely happens, and if it does then you have abdicated any control or influence over the results that occur. Stop procrastinating and take action, this will help you generate opportunities and possibilities.

Take one of these choices now for yourself, right now, today. What is the impact of doing this for you? What have you achieved? Share your experiences here below in the comments section!

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

5 Steps to Creating Your Leadership Brand

Just as businesses need to build their brands, so leaders need to build their leadership brand.

You probably already have a personal leadership brand. But do you have the right one? And is it the one that will take you from where you are to where you want to be?

This is an important question as it is your leadership brand that conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader. It communicates the value you offer. If you have the wrong leadership brand for the position you have or the position you want, then your work is not having the impact it could. A strong personal leadership brand allows all that’s powerful and effective about your leadership to become known to your colleagues, enabling you to generate maximum value.

What’s more, choosing a leadership brand can help give you focus. When you clearly identify what you want to be known for, it is easier to let go of the tasks and projects that do not let you deliver on that brand. Instead, you can concentrate on the activities that do.

Five Steps to Building Your Leadership Brand

  1. What results do you want to achieve in the next year?

The first thing you should do is ask yourself, “In the next 12 months, what are the major results I want to deliver at work?” Take into account the interests of these four groups:

  • Customers
  • Investors
  • Employees
  • The organization
  1. What do you wish to be known for?

What are the six key descriptors which you need to have to balance your strengths and qualities? A good way to do this is to ask your boss, peers and some of your most trusted subordinates. “What are the traits that someone in this role (and/or future role) should exhibit?” Their responses will help you to refine your list.  For example, the traits you ultimately select might include being collaborative, deliberate, independent, innovative, results-oriented and strategic.

  1. Define your identity

The next step is to combine these six words into three two-word phrases that reflect your desired identity. This exercise allows you to build a deeper, more complex description: not only what you want to be known for, but how you will probably have to act to get there. For example, the above six descriptors could be combined into the following three phrases:

  • Independently innovative
  • Deliberately collaborative
  • Strategically results-oriented

Test these ideas with your colleagues.

  1. Construct your leadership brand statement, and then test it.

In this step, you pull everything together in a leadership brand statement that makes a “so that” connection between what you want to be known for (Steps 2 and 3) and your desired results (Step 1). Fill in the blanks:

“I want to be known for being ______________ so that I can deliver __________.”

For example: “I want to be known for being independently innovative, deliberately collaborative and strategically results-oriented so that I can deliver superior financial outcomes for my business.”

With your leadership brand statement drafted, ask the following three questions to see if it needs to be refined:

  • Is this the brand identity that best represents who I am and what I can do?
  • Is this brand identity something that creates value in the eyes of my organization and key stakeholders?
  • What risks am I taking by exhibiting this brand? Can I live this brand?
  1. Make your brand identity real

To ensure that the leadership brand you advertise is embodied in your day-to-day work, check in with those around you. Do they see you as you wish to be seen? If you say you are flexible and approachable, do others find you so?

Share your personal leadership brand with others. Let people know your evolving as a leader and ask them for their feedback. The exercise of forging a leadership brand requires day-to-day discipline to make it real, the courage to make the changes you need to make, and humility to ask and take on the ideas and advice of others.

Your leadership brand isn’t static; it continually evolves to the different expectations you face at different times in your career. Leaders with the self-awareness and drive to evolve their leadership brands are more likely to be successful over the long term — and to enjoy the journey more.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Peter Drucker on Marketing

Peter DruckerLong ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation that has been lost in the sands of time:

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Today, when top management is surveyed, their priorities in order are finance, sales, production, management, legal and people. Missing from the list: marketing and innovation. When one considers the trouble that many of our icons have run into in recent years, it is not easy to surmise that Drucker’s advice would have perhaps helped management to avoid the problems they face today.

Ironically, David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame once observed that “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people.” But as the years rolled on, rather than learn about marketing and innovation, executives started to search for role models instead of marketing models.

Tom Peters probably gave this trend a giant boost with the very successful book he co-authored, In Search of Excellence. Excellence, as defined in that book, didn’t equal longevity, however, as many of the role models offered there have since foundered. In retrospect, a better title for the book might have been In Search of Strategy.

A popular method-by-example book has been Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras. In it, they write glowingly about “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” that turned the likes of Boeing, Wal-Mart Stores, General Electric, IBM and others into the successful giants they have become.

The companies that the authors of Built to Last suggest for emulation were founded from 1812 (Citicorp) to 1945 (Wal-Mart). These firms didn’t have to deal with the intense competition in today’s global economy. While there is much you can learn from their success, they had the luxury of growing up when business life was a lot simpler. As a result, these role models are not very useful for companies today.

There is a growing legion of competitors coming at new businesses from every corner of the globe. Technologies are ever changing. The pace of change is faster. It is increasingly difficult for CEOs to digest the flood of information out there and make the right choices.

But a CEO can have a future.

The trick to surviving out there is not to stare at the balance sheet but simply to know where you must go to find success in a market. That’s because no one can follow you (the board, your managers, your employees) if you don’t know where you’re headed.

How do you find the proper direction? To become a great strategist, you have to put your mind in the mud of the marketplace. You have to find your inspiration down at the front, in the ebb and flow of the great marketing battles taking place in the mind of the prospect. Here is a four-step process to pursue:

Step 1: Make Sense in the Context

Arguments are never made in a vacuum. There are always surrounding competitors trying to make arguments of their own. Your message has to make sense in the context of the category. It has to start with what the marketplace has heard and registered from your competition.

What you really want to get is a quick snapshot of the perceptions that exist in the mind, not deep thoughts.

What you’re after are the perceptual strengths and weaknesses of you and your competitors as they exist in the minds of the target group of customers.

Step 2: Find the Differentiating Idea

To be different is to be not the same. To be unique is to be one of its kinds.

So you’re looking for something that separates you from your competitors. The secret to this understands that your difference does not have to be product related.

Consider a horse. Yes, horses are quickly differentiated by their type. There are racehorses, jumpers, ranch horses, wild horses and on and on. But racehorses can be differentiated by breeding, by performance, by stable, by the trainer and so forth.

Step 3: Have the Credentials

There are many ways to set your company or product apart. Let’s just say the trick is to find that difference and then use it to set up a benefit for your customer.

To build a logical argument for your difference, you must have the credentials to support your differentiating idea, to make it real and believable.

If you have a product difference, then you should be able to demonstrate that difference. The demonstration, in turn, becomes your credentials. If you have a leak-proof valve, then you should be able to have a direct comparison with valves that can leak.

Claims of difference without proof are really just claims. For example, a “wide-track” Pontiac must be wider than other cars. British Airways as the “world’s favorite airline” should fly more people than any other airline. Coca-Cola as the “real thing” has to have invented colas.

You can’t differentiate with smoke and mirrors. Consumers are skeptical. They’re thinking, “Oh yeah, Mr. Advertiser? Prove it!” You must be able to support your argument.

It’s not exactly like being in a court of law. It’s more like being in the court of public opinion, especially with the rise of social media.

Step 4: Communicate Your Difference

Just as you can’t keep your light under a basket, you can’t keep your difference under wraps.

If you build a differentiated product, the world will not automatically beat a path to your door. Better products don’t win. Better perceptions tend to be the winners. The truth will not win out unless it has some help along the way.

Every aspect of your communications should reflect your difference. Your advertising. Your brochures. Your web site. Your sales presentations.

The folks who work for or with you don’t need mystical answers on “How do I unlock my true potential?” The question they need answering is, “What makes this company different?”

That answer gives them something to latch onto, and run with.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

What to Do When You Fail to Make the Right Impression

Why we sometimes fail to come across as we intend.

We often want to make the ‘right’ impression, but inadvertently end up making the ‘wrong’ impression.

This can happen with your boss, a potential employer, or someone who represents a romantic interest – in fact, anyone with whom you interact. And it can happen despite our best efforts and having the best of intentions. Not coming across as you intend – particularly in your initial encounter with someone – can cause big problems in your personal and professional life. People may mistrust you, dislike you, or not even notice you. Sometimes the fault is your own, sometimes the reason why may lie with other people

Why is this?

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Perceiving people accurately is hard – often the way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible and largely automatic. Although we can distinguish between strong emotions expressed by others, it is remarkably difficult to do with more differentiated emotions. How you or other people look when concerned, puzzled, anxious or confused is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish accurately.  Because we know what we are feeling when we express it we assume that others can discern that feeling. Wrong!  This is why we are often “misunderstood” when we believe we have been crystal clear.
  • What we say, do and express is subject to interpretationwe cannot accurately assess others, or others accurately assess us, because we don’t know what they are thinking or why. So our brains, automatically, pick an interpretation which reflects our beliefs and experiences. So we develop an immediate perception of others, and they of us – rightly or wrongly.
  • We use shortcuts – here we use heuristics and assumptions to fill in the gaps.
    • Heuristics – these are rules of thumb which we use to help us guide our interpretation of someone, an event or a situation in making a decision. For example, when someone believes the opinion of a person of authority on a subject just because the individual is an authority figure. People apply this heuristic all the time in matters such as science, politics, and education. This can be described as an “authority heuristic”.
    • Assumptions – these guide what the perceiver sees, how that information is interpreted, and how it is remembered. As such, assumptions form an integral part of his or her perception of you. There are some assumptions so universal and automatic that you can count on other people making them about you, and that most people are unaware that are making them. For example, if you have a very positive trait — if you are smart, beautiful, funny, kind, and so forth — you are likely to have other positive traits. (and you can count on people to have no idea that they are doing it); the first impression you give is the “right” one, and it shapes how everything else about you is perceived, and you are like the other members of groups to which you appear to belong.

So even when you are meeting someone for the first time he or she will be filling in details about you – even before you start speaking!  So what can you do about this?

  • Find out in advance as much as you can about the other person’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. This will help you to anticipate what he or she may be projecting onto you.
  • Plan what you want to emphasize and/or underplay to help create the right effect.
  • Use the primacy effect – this is where the initial information or points you make are more likely to be remembered than those later on. In short, your initial conversation and behavior will have a greater and disproportionate impact than what occurs later.
  • Make your opinions and values explicitly known in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the other person.
  • Be intentional – it is not enough to have good intentions.

Making, Leveraging & Overcoming First Impressions

First Impressions Count

Remember first impressions can always be changed and/or improved on.  First impressions are important as they begin to lay the foundation of your relationship with another person, so if the foundation is not how you would like it to then be quick to smooth over or re-pour the concrete before it sets.  Why?  Because this foundation also represents the inertia of the other person’s attitudes towards you.  If these attitudes are favorable then it can be used to generate momentum, if they are unfavorable then a considerable effort is required to overcome the inertia and then gain momentum.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.