Bad Habits, Bad Decisions

I read a great article in the Harvard Business Review recently: 9 Habits that Lead to Terrible Business Decisions. If you haven’t time to read the article in full, here we go with a whistle stop tour of nine deadly sins that I’m absolutely certain no member of TAB York ever makes…

  1. Laziness – a failure to check facts and gather new information: relying on past experience and – as the financial services industry might say – expecting past performance to be a guarantee of the future
  2. Failing to anticipate the unexpected – as I wrote last week, ‘don’t think it can’t happen because it can.’ And these days it increasingly is happening. You may have had a great idea, it may excite you beyond measure – but you still need to ask yourself, ‘what if…’
  3. Indecisiveness – with your colleagues round the TAB table behind you I hope this never happens, but sometimes the best decision is simply to make a decision
  4. Staying locked in the past – “we’ve always done it this way.” “Better the devil you know.” As you know I’m very fond of [slightly] misquoting Robert Kennedy: “see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’’’
  5. No strategic alignment – no decision can be taken in isolation: it has to fit in with your long term goals. I’ll come back to this one, as it is so important.
  6. Over-dependence – no decision can be taken because X is waiting for Y who’s not sure because he’s waiting for Z. Just remember, the leader’s job is to lead, and sometimes that means not waiting for everyone
  7. Failure to communicate – entire forests have been wiped out by the amount of books, papers and essays written about the importance of communication. And yet still people don’t do it.
  8. Isolation – this may seem like it’s the opposite of over-dependence, but sometimes you do need to consult. You just need to get on and do it quickly.
  9. Finally, lack of technical knowledge. I couldn’t agree more: today the person with the right technical knowledge may be a 23 year old coder who’s been with you for six months. Knowledge is no longer the preserve of the boardroom and good leaders know there are times when they simply have to get out there and learn.

Let me go back to a couple of those points – no strategic alignment and failure to communicate. No major business decision should stand alone: every decision has to be part of your long term strategy – and move you towards accomplishing your long term goals. Everything should flow backwards: this is where we want to be in five years’ time. Fine, these are the decisions we need to take now to help us get there. And if the decision you’ve just taken isn’t helping you get there, you almost certainly need to re-consider it.

And as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, communication is the key to all things – not least because that 23 year old coding genius may well spot a flaw in your decision. You’ve got to take the team with you and, increasingly, you need feedback and expertise from the whole of your team – but they can’t do that if they don’t know what you’re doing or what you’ve decided.

I was talking to one of my Board members yesterday. He made the point very forcefully that some of the best ideas in his company come from the youngest and newest members of the team. Sadly, many businesses still have a ‘serve your time and then we’ll listen to you’ culture. Make sure yours isn’t one of them, because ‘years spent’ no longer equals the ideas, knowledge and insight you need in a changing world.

As the old saying goes, ‘the best meetings are held at round tables.’ Everyone’s opinion matters; everyone’s ideas are worth listening to.

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