How do we get our heads around all that is going on around us, so we can create powerful ideas, solve problems and make decisions? Effective decision making involves three high performance leadership behaviours: ‘information search’, ‘idea creation’ and ‘flexible thinking’.
These are the ten key steps involved:
- Clearly define the situation or goal.
- Create a value for research and knowledge gathering throughout your team.
- Collect as much information as possible from a board range of sources, from both ‘within’ and ‘outside’ of the situation to get a wide rich viewpoint of what’s going on. Governmental regulations, legal developments, market conditions, economic factors, market research and technological developments can all affect the situation.
- Form ideas and judgements from the information available. Link in the information from the wider environment to make better sense of the situation. Don’t get bogged down by the details – look at the ‘whole’.
- Involve others to encourage the generation of ideas. Brainstorm all alternatives. Entertain all ideas at this stage.
- Consider at least two viable solutions or options. Hold options in ‘parallel’ not ‘in series’.
- Compare the pros and cons of all solutions simultaneously.
- Consider the consequences and impact of each option. Who does it impact? Is it achievable? Are the timescales realistic?
- Based on your analysis, choose the best possible option, form an action plan and implement your decision. Be specific and set measurable targets.
- Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Always have a backup plan. Implement a process for continuous review so, if new information arises, you are ready to revise and adapt.
I was just listening to the radio as they were discussing with bemusement a costly £40.6m blunder by French train operator SNCF. They have discovered that 2000 shiny new trains are actually too wide for many station platforms and subsequently work is now underway to chip away at the platforms so the trains will fit. Ouch.
Costly mistakes are fortunately quite rare, but an article by the BBC today discusses this SNCF tale of woe as well as some other embarrassing stories where a little error proved very expensive, or even fatal…you can read the article here.
I think my favourite is the story about how a bridge was built between Germany and Switzerland, but both nationalities used different benchmarks with relation to mean sea levels. Germany, for its part, measures height in relation to the North Sea, while Switzerland opts for the Mediterranean Sea. As two halves of a new bridge grew closer to one another, it became clear that, instead of being at the same height “above sea level”, one side was 54cm higher than the other!
One of the high performance leadership behaviours that we rate and coach is ‘information search’. The essence is that your information should be “rich and broad”. It is vital to gather a rich variety of information from many different sources about events, issues and situations occurring internally and externally to your environment. The importance of this behaviour should be ingrained throughout your organisation so that you always have a broad set of data in a continuously changing environment.
With this rich data at your fingertips, red faces can, hopefully, be saved!
The article suggested that one reason for this reduction was better targeting of resources – fewer ‘random’ Police patrols (even though these are often called for by the public) and more focused attention on crime hotspots.
Interestingly, there was an example of some particularly effective information search in one project in Cardiff. Police worked with the local A&E ward to obtain anonymised postcode and time-of-admission data for victims of violent crime.
They were surprised just how this different this was compared to the reported incident data, probably as a result of the lack of willingness to report this type of crime to the Police.
This enabled them to identify ‘hotspots’ (and ‘hot’ times) so they could target the limited Police resources available. This brought about a considerable reduction in violent crime and injury.
The key to effective information search is to seek broad information beyond the obvious needed to complete the task at hand. Usually this requires a bit of lateral thinking when planning your information search. It also helps if you think about non quantitative data that might be available, such as how people ‘feel’ about a situation.
So the next time you reach for some data, have a think about how you can broaden your search. Research shows that this is key starting point for great planning and strategic thinking development.
Vary what you read and who you talk to – you never know where the next nugget of information will come from. Information Search is one of the 12 high performance behaviours that my360plus measures and coaches as part of its focus on leadership talent development. Like all the High Performance Behaviours, it is empirically proven to help you thrive and survive in increasing change and complexity. Get in touch to find out more.
We’ve been working with Professor Harry Schroder’s High Performance Behaviours (HPBs) for a long time now so it’s hardly surprising that we tend to ‘see’ examples of the behaviour regularly in every day life.
Yesterday, for example, Sir Terry Leahy, ex CEO of Tesco plc, was on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and his interview was littered with potential examples of HPBs. We say ‘potential’ examples because there wasn’t enough hard evidence in the interview to confirm that he’d used them (Kirsty Young isn’t an accredited HPB consultant, after all!). However, the success of Tesco under his leadership is undisputed, so there’s a high chance that he did use the behaviours consistently at a high level.
Here are the examples. The HPBs are in italics:
Discussing his leadership style:
Developing People: “I tried to coach people to get the best out of them.”
Building Confidence: “I always wanted to make people feel better about themselves to build their confidence.”
Proactivity: “I was relatively quiet, I think, as a leader. I didn’t use to send lots of memos around, or emails, and that was unsettling for some people. But they came to understand that I was trusting them to do their job.”
On the Tesco Clubcard:
Information Search:” Loyalty cards … allow you to understand more about a person so you can offer the products, services and information [to be] more useful to that person.”
Influence (continuing from the Information Search comment above): “In that way, if the person can see something useful, personal, helpful in some small way, it gradually builds loyalty.”
Presentation: “If you think about a doctor, they have to know something about the patient in order for them to do their best work. The more you know about a customer – how they shop, when they shop – you can do a better job for them.”
Influence: “You can either do good or bad [with customer knowledge]. What you have to do is be careful that you’re actually creating things that are beneficial to them, that you’re not manipulating the customer.”
Customer Action (When challenged that surely a company is there to ‘reward its shareholders and make money… having its shareholders’ interests at heart’): “The best organisations do put their customers at the heart and I think we were able to persuade our owners, our shareholders that the best way for them to get a return was by improving shopping for customers.”
We’ll be following Sir Terry’s next ventures with interest.
We were asked by a client last week if we could remove from our questionnaire the statements that probe ‘strategic’ level behaviour on the grounds that the relatively junior managers we are working with “can’t influence the strategy”. Our reply was that Level 5, or strategic level, behaviour is relevant for even the most junior team members.
In the Schroder framework the behaviours at Level 5 are the actions an individual takes to promote the high performance behaviour in others, even when they themselves are not there. Putting in place a system or process that enables the behaviour to happen (to be ‘done’ by others), even if the instigator is not present, is Level 5 behaviour. An example here for Level 5 Information Search might be setting up a monthly survey to gather information relevant to a project or process. The information gathering will now happen regularly, whether or not the instigator is present. Similarly a system or process that encourages a culture or value for a behaviour may also be Level 5. Level 5 Flexible Thinking might be introducing a team ‘rule’ that whenever the team is coming up with ideas, options or solutions, there always has to be at least four or five viable options on the table instead of the normal two or three. This encourages the development in that team of a culture of leaving no option unexplored rather than just going with the standard options that present themselves (and may not move the team/company/project on).
In practice this Level 5 or strategic behaviour can lead to significant performance improvements, especially if other high level behaviour is present in the same person or team – this is what we mean when we give an individual or a team a rating of ‘Strategic Strength’. That Level 5 Information Search survey may lead to an important trend being spotted, the root cause of a problem being identified or a new market opening, especially if combined with high level Idea Creation. That Level 5 Flexible Thinking may lead to an innovative new approach to delivery or a more robust solution to a problem.
So while we call it strategic-level behaviour, it’s not necessarily about the strategy of the business, although it will most certainly have a positive impact on this, too, in the longer term.
Most people have the potential to work at Level 5 in a handful of behaviours, whatever their rank within the organisation. And pretty much everyone can help promote high level behaviour in others, even if it’s just regularly reiterating how important that behaviour is. In fact, putting in place a communications or development programme to help every individual within the organisation understand their potential and know that it is valued, regardless of rank, is also potentially strategic behaviour.