You can imagine, I’ve seen the inner-workings of quite a few businesses and encountered numerous senior managers, but I’m still amazed at the lack of balls some managers demonstrate when it comes to making a decision. I was particularly interested therefore that, in this month’s Transformation Monthly, the transformation specialist Rob Llewellyn explores this inertia.

So what is it that in the current marketplace where opportunities are rare, competition is tough and ruthless, that leads those charged with the success of a business to hold back on initiatives that might give them the advantage their business need? Rob probably has as much experience of this as I and he explores a few examples and ideas in his article. As far as I am concerned though, it’s mainly about the insecurity of the managers concerned.

When I was starting my career I was lucky enough to have the ex-Publicis Regional Chairman Michael Conroy as a boss for a while. If you ever encountered Michael you’ll know him for his charm and wit, but he was also something of a sage and took delight in dispensing pearls of wisdom to young-bloods such as I was at the time.  His attitude to decisions was simple – make them! Michael’s argument was that so few of the decisions you make in your life have any real consequence and you can never tell at the time which those are, so you may as well just go for it! (actually, Michael put it far more eloquently than that, but you’ll get the idea).

Don’t get me wrong, Michael wasn’t cavalier by any means. His sharp mind, considerable experience, knowledge and ability to think forward meant that his quick decisions were always a product of an even quicker and thorough assessment of all the pros and cons, but that’s what every senior manager should be capable of and if they aren’t they are simply not up to the job. Sadly, we appear to have manufactured two critical obstacles to the development of decision-making managers. The first is we are dumbing down. By this I mean many managers are very ordinary. This isn’t my judgement, although its not a hard one to make, you just have to look at the evidence, its the news from the managers themselves.  I touched on this a couple of months ago when I referenced research in which over half of managers admitted they felt they weren’t up to their jobs. The same report also highlighted the belief held by managers that on average they didn’t expect to be in their roles longer than two years, which means that, right or wrong, they wouldn’t be around on judgement day anyway. All they are looking for therefore is an easy ride and making decisions that often prompt change and could possibly be wrong, isn’t the quickest route to a restful night. To make this worse, the consequences of failure loom like the sword of Damocles over today’s managers. In most sectors success is expected rather than rewarded, so you can see why so many choose to play it safe and and take the easiest route to a simple stress-free life.

Having chosen not to do anything though, I do wish managers would fess up and be honest. Comments like “No we won’t do his ’cause I’m chicken would go down a lot better with me than the usual “We’re not ready for this yet” or “This puts us too far ahead of our competitors. We don’t need to take it that far” which leave me somewhere between incredulous and incensed. Comments like this usually come from managers who have put-off making decisions for so long that their business is incapable of being ready for anything, and that is often why they are calling me in the first place. The point is that their competitors are often not only ready, but some way down the road to putting similar ideas into practice.

In today’s competitive marketplace you are either fast or dead. You can’t afford to ponder over decisions, so make sure your inability to make them isn’t holding your business back.

Phil Darby
May 16, 2014

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