Bias for Action or Bias for Outcome?

Harnessing the Power of “Think Time”

There is a pace that envelops us; energized by texting, social media and web meetings that expects a fast response.  Tech companies, biotech companies, service companies and even sales professionals in lagging markets seem to value response time over most any other activity.  Are the packed schedules, full of action that we have created for ourselves, resulting in better outcomes for ourselves, our teams and our companies?

How often do we get it wrong when we move too fast? What are the challenges of an action bias?

The Odds are Stacked Against You

Big decisions facing management and executive teams are being made within the following contexts:

  • Long workdays filled with back-to-back meetings that minimize the ability to focus clearly and that restrict “consideration” time.
  • Information overload without enough time spent in analysis of what is accurate and reliable data.
  • Truncated messaging, even from trusted sources, that may not give a complete picture of the issue and instead can create more urgency and hurried debates.
  • Clients or Boards expecting rapid responses, because we have taught them that this is what we do.

No surprise there are mistakes, short tempers, dictatorial attitudes and missed opportunities.

Recently, I was working with an executive team that just seemed fatigued.  It wasn’t that they didn’t love their business, or didn’t take their annual vacations, or were short on leadership skills. They were simply tired of being on overload and moving at a very fast for the past couple of years.

Their business was growing quickly, their management team was technically very sharp and developing leadership skills, their industry regulations were in flux and they had just reorganized their business operations this past year amid completing multiple sizable projects.  Together, we did an off-site planning day of just 6 hours – titled “Long-Term Strategic Planning.”

The Value of Re-Grounding and Thinking Reflectively

Because of the complexity of the business, I had asked each executive to give me the top issues they wanted to make certain were discussed.  There were several topics that had multiple votes as being important such as staff development, improving performance, and high value report development.  But the agenda had so many topics to cover that spending a short time on each would still mean barely exploring the possibilities of each issue.

Each of these talented executives has a bias for action. They get and are rewarded for getting “it” done.  I decided to slow the meeting down, take some time for reflection and building a context for the coming year for making choices or decisions.

They had a terrific meaning with some realizations and key choices.  The bullet points below summarize what we did and what they learned.  You can apply these same techniques to your business:

  • Key Learning’s Guide Future Choices:  The first step was to validate what got accomplished in the past two years.  Each executive seemed proud and comforted that the management marathon had produced a better operating organization. There was a brief discussion about what could have gone differently and where employees’ strengths could have been leveraged better.
  • Aligned Context for Making Decisions:  A brief time was then spent talking about how each executive made decisions in the past year – what one or two themes guided their choice? First they wrote them down on a blank sheet and then each gave one of their answers in rotation.  The words were captured on a white board.  They were pleasantly reminded that despite very different management styles, they were aligned in their influencers when making decisions.
  • Take the Time to Reflect and Shine a Light on Blind Spots:  The rest of the day – 4+hours, was spent talking about management talent, going over organizational issues and prioritizing projects for the upcoming years.  The conversations were succinct about each topic.  There was clarity about desired outcomes, metrics and assignments. There was openness to new approaches and how the business “needed to stop the line” when an old process was short-changing a desired outcome.  A theme emerged, “don’t codify broken methods.”
  • Rethink Responsiveness:  There was even a discussion about blocking more time out for executives and managers to simply take a step back and reflect. We asked the question, “How can I take the time as well as compel my managers to take a moment of reflection when an important choice needs to be made?”  One said, “It starts with us” and asked each other when they could calendar more forced consideration time and mentor their teams to do the same.


What might be the pay-off if you break the addiction of action bias?


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