Let’s say you are a judge. On one occasion, you will issue pardons 7 out of 10 times. On another occasion, you will issue pardons 1 out of 10 times. Do you know what the occasion is?
C-Suite Executives are faced with decisions every day. They are more than you realize. It’s not just decisions within the company or in a day’s work, it’s all the decisions you made on the way into work and after work. From what you wore to what you did for breakfast to which lane your drove in to what you said to your children – decisions add up, and as they add up, they take their toll. Science calls it decision fatigue. Too many small choices drain mental energy; sometimes we make them because we simply don’t recognize what we are doing. Sometimes we make them because decisions we make allow us to manage and control more. Sometimes we make them because we don’t want to make bigger decisions. Regardless of why, we make them. It doesn’t help that we make them after work, either, because if you are like me, you are still mulling over situations in the back of your mind. If you reached a decision before you went to bed, you want to rethink it. There is a reason we “sleep on it.”
The occasion in which judges grant pardons 70% of the time versus 10% of the time is whether they made the decision in the morning (70) or the afternoon (10). That is scary. So is the study that showed that business analysts were less accurate with their forecast if they made it in the afternoon. And the study that divided people into two groups: One was given a series of decisions to make, and the other was given fewer decisions to make. After, each group was to solve the same puzzle. The group that made fewer decisions easily outperformed those who were fatigued by decisions. When we are fatigued, we stop trying. We take the easy and safest way out.
Anyone can make decisions. C-Suite Executives must make effective decisions. Effective decisions implement goals and plans, influence direction and people, and identify key issues and insights. To make these decisions, C-Suite Executives need to stay informed on trends and market realities within their business and filter decisions through customer-centric focus. If they do, then the following strategies will lead to the most effective decisions.
3 Strategies for Effective Decision Making
Many decisions brought before C-Suite Executives issue from previously covered territory. You know this, because you will be asking the same questions to gather the right information you need for the best decision possible. Not only does this consume time, but it depletes energy and heightens irritation.
What are the decisions you must make in which you are better served if people come prepared with the information you already know you will need? Effective decision-makers have people do the work beforehand. You provide the template of questions, they come in with the answers. For example most decisions include cost factors or feedback from affected parties. Why should you be the one to gather that information? The person needing the decision does the work: You make the decision.
Collaboration tools can be a valuable assistant in process-centered decisions. They are easy ways for people to garner the information and insights needed before they ever come to you for a decision. If necessary, they provide a history of conversation that you can glance through to verify perspectives that are important to you.
The key: Keep in your court the decisions you must make; keep the responsibility to bring solid and complete information in the other person’s court.
A number of the same decisions need to be made in the life of a company. People can make “easy” decisions when same decisions have been automated or documented. Policies and procedures are in place so that work has been done once.
Have as many questions answered in advance as possible, and never make the same decision twice. Even if an employee seeks an exception, there is a best practice in place by which exceptions are granted or not (Now we know that smart employees seek exceptions in the morning and not the afternoon).
At the personal level, C-Suite Executives have learned that lists are still their friend. A To-Do and a Not-To-Do list maximizes your focus. A Pro and Con list clarifies your thinking, especially if those attributes are measured toward alignment of company culture and values. A Workflow list, starting with the end in mind, identifies what is truly the next best step toward accomplishment.
C-Suite Executives must make the decisions that reflect what they are responsible for, such as vision, culture, strategic direction, product creation and so forth. All other decisions can and must be made by others. You can give parameters, but so long as outcomes are within those boundaries, you don’t need to make another decision in regards to that issue.
Do you really need to be in on what desserts are served at the banquet? There are people better suited to make certain decisions then you are, and the decisions they make for you may be the ones that energize them. It’s a double-win: You are not drained by unnecessary decisions; they are thrilled to be making decisions that make them feel effective.
Clark Kent wore the same glasses all the time. I think he was on to something. Even Superman avoided decision fatigue.
You live with insight most people are still coming to understand. You know ahead of others that technology is not an important part of your business, it is your business. You know that customer experience is your commodity. You also know that there is lack of agreement among key influencers as to what digital transformation really is, that executives need critical buy-in now because market-changes occur at the speed of blur, that budgets are still lacking, and more, that talent is at a critical deficit: Advances in technology outpace the education required to keep up.
You know that 1.2 trillion dollars was spent on digital transformation technologies in 2017. You also know that 2019 will see that figure increase to 2.1 trillion dollars. Yet, people’s poor digital literacy keeps them pinned to the conviction that they are keeping up with advances so long as they use whatever technology customers use.
Because technology is “important,” the CIO has been invited to the table. What companies don’t realize is that the traditional long table with a head that listened and then made decisions has been replaced by the round table. Today’s CIO must co-create, not just facilitate, the very nature of how business is done. The CIO is transformational not transactional.
Co-Creation Requires Three CIO Initiatives
First, the CIO must create a whole new way of thinking. Digital is not a solution. It is not a way to optimize the way business is done so that old ways are now simply faster and cheaper and to the customer’s satisfaction. Digital is a way of being. Customers aren’t just creating new habits. Digital instinctual behavior is being wired into brains. The CIO as a co-creator must constantly, intentionally and strategically vision cast digital transformation. Fear will try to interfere: People will be political, protecting their interests; people will hold to old ways because they are their ways and they don’t want to be found to be irrelevant (or incapable of learning what is essential in the future). But the technological shift has already happened. The key behavior of the CIO is to identify the benefits for those who need to catch up:
Second, the CIO must create a new focus. Technology is not about them – a department – but about us, the company. We cannot move at different speeds, reading from different pages. Since no one can keep up with the pace of advances in technology, the company must create a culture of learners. Across the board, people must learn different aspects of applications, and then be cross-pollenated to help frame right applications. Work teams must have people who represent the user-experience. The belief that perfect exists or that being bulletproof is real must give way to “ready, fire, aim.” Rapid application development models must take hold. Roll-out, review and adjust based on customer experience now prevails over design delays that feared the repercussions of imperfection. Engage the customer now or lose the customer soon. In helping people see that technology is the business, failure is seen as a friend, not an enemy. If every lesson learned teaches a company about customers, it is a valuable lesson learned. The CIO must build a culture of feedback loops, where the focus is on improving for the sake of the end user. The old days of criticism of an imperfect product must be relinquished: It is now the engaged experience of the customer that counts. Companies want to make the best product they can, of course. But the cost of getting it perfect the first time is not greater than the cost of customer alienation. Your competition, which has broadened, thrives on customers who feel neglected. Companies must put more value on having an improved product based on actual customer feedback than on not making an imperfect product.
Third, the CIO must create a new direction of innovation. IT has now recognized that it must innovate or be left out. Architects of digital transformation know that there are two foundational constructs: improve customer experience and create digital revenue streams. Digital will represent 40% of revenue one year from now. Those who have anchored such innovation in their companies are 26% more profitable. Both customer experience and revenue streams require an outside-in perspective versus the traditional inside-out paradigm. Practically, this is why companies are moving from an executive down “buy-in” strategy. Instead, they are using cross-departmental collaboration to co-create solutions and then demonstrate the opportunity to C-Suite executives. As CIO, you envision every technology development as having begun in the street. Then you walk it in to the office. Data and analytics are re-engineering business processes and shaping new value creation. The CIO that co-creates knows the customer journey map, and is able to articulate the opportunities and obstacles toward digital value and revenue.
As a CIO, you have stepped into a bold, new future. You have been lifted up from the underground of systems. You see differently. You see further. By nature of your field, you see what others cannot. Since a company’s horizon is only as small as the limit of their sight, your vision can no longer take what others seek and try to make it better. You must be in the beginning. You must create.
It seems now that everyone is a Geek. I read the other day about Concrete Geeks. Of course, you have Student Geeks and Sports Geeks and Cookie Geeks and Politics Geeks and Fitness Geeks. In other words, you have people claiming to be Geeks even if what they geek out over is pretty much the opposite of what original Geeks were known for.
So let’s apply the brakes a bit. Yes, Geeks are known as someone with an intense interest and curiosity in a particular subject. But as Wil Wheaton says, “it’s not what you love but how you love it.” And that is the key understanding for C-Suite Executives, because even if you are an Executive Geek, it is highly likely you are motivated differently than a true Geek, and by true Geek, I mean us high-tech gurus who defined Geek in the first place, and name claim to the highest definition of Geek because we were the ones who spilled blood, and who were diving into computer programming while others were beating us over the head with automatic typewriters.
So you want to keep your Geeks and not lose them to the competition…
It’s not what you love (modern definition of Geek) but how you love it (true Geek). If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks. Yes, Geeks love money and time-off and other physical perks, but that is not what drives them and keeps them. Instead, most Geek-work is driven by creative problem solving. The C-Suite Executive who keeps their Geeks geeking out are the ones who offer multiple motivations built around this single core.
Geeks want challenging projects, on purpose, with the right people, the right tools and the right reward.
There are two sides to challenging projects: There is the Geek and there is the work. The Geek is an artist; (s)he wants to be able to look at a problem and consider the number of options available by which it may be solved. “And this is how we want you to do it” is a literal death sentence to a Geek.
The project needs to be well-defined. Specifically, a challenging project needs a problem statement, a clear idea of what the Geeks are trying to solve. It’s even better if there are clearly articulated goals at the outset. Part of a challenging project is that it is accompanied by realistic deadlines and humane hours. The challenge of a project is not in the impossibilities (“have this done yesterday”), it’s in the possibilities of solving a problem the best way possible, and perhaps, in ways not envisioned before.
If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks.
Geeks want to know that their work provides measurable value. Geeks are learners; what they learn, and how they apply it to a problem, is inherent in demonstrating their value. The last thing they want to do, for most of their time at least, is to do what “anyone else can do.” Geeks pride themselves on what they alone can bring to the table. This is also why a good C-Suite Executive will build competition into a project. Geeks love competition, not necessarily against something but within something: For example, “Produce a system more efficient than this company has ever seen before.”
Geeks will leave if they aren’t accomplishing anything. If projects are always delayed or courses are being changed, Geeks will look for the company that actually need their expertise to get something done.
That is why the best C-Suite executive or IT Manager knows to protect their Geeks from any customer interface or meeting prematurity where a desire has yet to be translated to an objective. Objectives can be turned into code. Ambiguous wishes are merely vapors that vanish into the air.
That a Geek needs to provide value, and that a Geek needs to solve a problem, and that a Geek needs to see their contribution against a bigger corporate objective is exactly why Geeks thrive on communication. Leaders must constantly keep in front of Geeks what the company is trying to accomplish and how the projects advance the greater mission. Geeks are info junkies – they want to know. But they don’t want too much information. Geeks live enough in a silo to not want to be distracted by information that is not relevant. It’s not that information is power; it’s the right information is power.
For Geeks, the right people are team members who know their stuff, and who are not prone to make mistakes that will cost the rest of the team innumerable hours on unnecessary repair and rework.
For Geeks, the right people are teachers and mentors. Geeks will leave if they do not have people expanding a Geek’s capacity. This is a critical question for the C-Suite Executive: “Do I have masters in place who answer the intrinsic need of Geeks to inquire, to know and to grow in their fields?”
For Geeks, the right people are those who highlight a Geek’s intelligence and give proper credit. It is those who take them seriously, and what drives them seriously. Geeks want to contribute; they genuinely want to help. They also really don’t want to be asked to do anything that calls their credibility into question. Geeks are ruthlessly honest because their work requires honesty; they know if there is a problem in the system, and they know that misrepresenting the problem creates bigger problems. Never ask a Geek to misrepresent your product. They will flee.
For Geeks, the right people give them free food. Seriously. Not all the time, but regularly. It inspires them. It’s a low end investment for the company that gains a high yield of creativity.
Stagnant technology will drive away your Geeks faster than the Flash can circle the earth (which is about a work day at Mach 6 speed).
It’s not that Geeks just want the latest and greatest gadgets. A Geek is genuinely driven to succeed at a problem you have given them, believing that the company legitimately wants to solve a customer need, and to do so in a way that is profitable in the long run to the company. To be given such a challenge, and to then have the right technology withheld, is to betray the honesty of the project, and certainly, to cast a shadow on the true motivation of the company.
Geeks either want to learn the technology that can solve their problem (and once a project is entrusted to them, it personally becomes their problem), or they want the ability to develop the technology that is needed.
Have you established for your Geeks a clear path toward career development? Remember, Geeks want to expand themselves. Career development can mean promotion, but it definitely means the ability to become their best creative self, making the most valuable contributions possible.
Geeks will stay with a company for a long time if their ability to grow is not short-term within the system. C-Suite Executives that want to keep their Geeks geeking-out will live by one rule: Geeks Are Always Learning. Reward them with educational opportunities, mentoring relationships, peer growth circles and other capacity-building avenues.
After reading this, you are probably geeking-out yourself over your Geeks. Who doesn’t want employees who are driven by problem solving, focused on the most profitable means, simply seeking to be their best for the best of the customer?