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No Decision is Still a Decision
08/11/2017 John Grubbs
No Decision
Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.—George Carlin

How many unmade decisions are cluttering the minds of CEOs and other leaders at this very moment? Very often, the lack of action involves people. How many hours are wasted in the C-Suite because of unmade people decisions? How does this emotional burden impact other decisions? What does this do for other work and home relationships? How much does this cost in both direct hours and opportunity cost for leadership?

There is a compelling responsibility that most managers neglect. It is not production, operations, planning, or strategy. It is not systems, delegation, or marketing. The number one job for any worthy manager is to dehire those team members with a toxic, bad attitude.

This neglected and often-ignored responsibility will erode and eventually undermine whatever leadership the CEO may have had with the team.

These organizational cancers have but one mission in life: they infect the rest of the organization with the negativity that consumes them. This neglected and often-ignored responsibility will erode and eventually undermine whatever leadership the CEO may have had with the team. The rest of team has no power to remove these tumors and often suffers more work and less appreciation.

Get your scalpel out today and get to work. The sooner you act, the better your team will perform and the easier your work life will become. Think about how much of your time is consumed by these cancerous, infectious, and negative individuals. Get it done.

When we decide to postpone a decision, others are affected by the indecision.

Many aspiring leaders do not realize that not making a decision is a decision. The decision not to act may seem like a passive action when, in reality, the opposite may be true. When we decide to postpone a decision, others are affected by the indecision. From the simple to the complex, we make decisions daily. We also decide to postpone decisions while we are pondering or considering how to act.

Decisions are like organizational spiderwebs that impact everyone on the team. Little decisions only bump the web, while larger decisions shake it violently. It is only the perception of severity that tempts indecision. For example, deciding not to say something is a decision. Deciding not to act is a decision. Many see decision making as two-dimensional: do this or do that. In reality, it is three-dimensional: do this, do that, or do nothing. There is a consequence to all of these perspectives, and there are results for all three decisions.

Underperformers depend on indecision for their very existence in an organization.

Managers often struggle the most with people-related decisions. Underperformers depend on indecision for their very existence in an organization. They are betting that the manager would rather tolerate low performance than deal with them directly. Ironically, many are winning this bet.

When it comes to people, if you think you have to make a people decision, you probably do. The pain of acting seems greater than the pain of not acting. And, for the decision maker, the temporary pain avoidance is often followed by long-term chronic organizational pain that everyone else on the team can feel. In other words, an underperformer can cause great pain for his or her peer group. The longer the pain is allowed to continue, the less likely it is that the decision maker is considered to be a leader by the rest of the team. The longer we allow underperformers to exist, the faster we lose the title of “leader” for our team.

The worst boss I ever had seemed to be a good person. But I never enjoyed working for him because he never seemed capable of or willing to make a decision.

When the time came to take action or make a decision, he usually postponed action. I would watch many projects move down in the pile of other decisions he would not make. I even started using colorful folders (bright red, mostly) in the hopes he would see them, remember them, and eventually make a decision.

I value my experience with him greatly because I learned that not making a decision is deciding not to act. This intentional attempt to abdicate leadership only loses you the title of “leader” for your followers. When faced with a difficult decision, remember that it is not just one action or another. The third dimension of decision making is nothing, and the cost of nothing could be greater than you ever imagined.

We must constantly make room for the person who can take our team to the next level.

As leaders, we must accept that change and transition are necessary to find and attract better talent. If we tolerate bad attitudes and unwanted behavior, we are really not leading. We must constantly make room for the person who can take our team to the next level. Although not pleasant, it is an absolute necessity for an organization to improve. If you really want to win the war for talent, you must be willing to attract and hire the best. You cannot do this with the wrong people stuck in key positions on your team.

I have yet to encounter an organization that is proud of how current performance reviews work. In fact, most executives are ashamed when asked about this common corporate ritual. Why are they so dysfunctional? According to Mark Murphy, in a recent survey of forty-eight thousand CEOs, managers, and employees, he found that only 13 percent of managers and 6 percent of CEOs thought year-end reviews were effective.

most employees surveyed think top performers should be rewarded when most are not.

The dysfunction has more to do with timing and reward than anything. If your boss waits almost a year to tell you that you are not performing at the highest level, the first question you will probably have is “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Moreover, “How can I receive good remarks during a performance review and then get fired a few months later?” Also, employees feel like the boss doesn’t really know how and what they do. And finally, most employees surveyed think top performers should be rewarded when most are not. Does this sound familiar?

The survey went on to say that most people feel like a student getting a grade from a teacher. In the business world, this can kill morale and productivity. My research reveals that a reliance on this “dinosaur methodology” is a result of custom more than preference. We have not taught HR or other executives how to deliver proper performance feedback. Someone has simply made the presumption that he or she knew how to deliver feedback all along. This ignorance is more common than you might imagine. Most are unaware that a five-step process for delivering effective feedback exists. And few have ever practiced and honed this skill to be effective. It is something we must learn to do, and it takes repetition to become good at it. As with most skills, if we do not practice, we begin to lose the skill.

Here are some thoughts to consider. Ask your team, “What do you think of your performance review process?” Then ask yourself, “Why are we doing them?” Finally, ask your team, “What would happen if we simply stopped doing them?”

Following is an excellent example from the banking industry:

Edward took over as branch manager of a bank eight months ago. He is new to town and this particular branch but not new to the company. He has been assistant branch manager with success, and his promotion to branch manager at this bank is long overdue. During his tenure as assistant manager, he was mentored by a great manager who taught him how to run an efficient and profitable business enterprise.

He was more preoccupied with making the branch look good to corporate, no matter what the cost or impact was to his local team.

Overall, most of the employees at Edward’s new bank are excited to have a new manager. The previous manager was aloof and did not lead the team. He was more preoccupied with making the branch look good to corporate, no matter what the cost or impact was to his local team. As a result, morale has deteriorated to the point that most employees are cynical about management. They are hoping for better things but are not holding their breath for them to come.

The quality of supervision for this bank is poor. In the past, under the previous manager, supervisors had limited authority and did not get much respect from the employees on the front lines. As a result, good supervisors have left, and those who remain are either gluttons for punishment or incapable of supervising at any other organization. This branch has pushed away good leadership and emasculated the remaining supervisors to the point that they have no credibility with the team. The previous manager had ruled the branch like an autocrat and did not seek the advice or opinions of other leaders on the team. What he said went, and if anyone attempted to challenge him, he or she was isolated and made to feel silly for having another opinion.

Steve, in particular, is a problem. He is a midlevel manager at the branch and now reports directly to Edward. Steve has learned the branch business well and can play the political game to gain an advantage for his own agenda. He is outright sarcastic and cynical to most people while cooperative and understanding to Edward. Steve’s survival skills are legitimate. He has learned to kill ideas and proposals he does not favor by taking little or no action. With great skill, he can sabotage any idea he deems not beneficial to him and his current view of normality. Change is not something he desires because he has become quite comfortable in the world of now.

As long as things ran smoothly, he did not care about the details.

Fellow supervisors and managers all know Steve’s personality and have learned to tolerate his sarcastic and negative view of people and business. As a matter of fact, they have become convinced that Steve is a permanent part of the team. The prior manager liked the fact that Steve got things done and did not rock the boat. As long as things ran smoothly, he did not care about the details. As a result, Steve feels empowered to do it his way, regardless of who is in charge. He does not respect Edward or the position he holds in the bank. He feels independent of a higher authority and does not plan to change anything about what he does on a daily basis.

Edward is a high-energy manager who plans to take this mediocre-performing bank to the next level. His was a major part of the success at the previous branch and plans to implement the same changes here at this new bank. He is somewhat aware of Steve’s reputation and suspects that he is a sycophant who kisses up to gain personal advantage. Deep down, Edward knows that Steve is detrimental to the team and the change that is necessary for improvement. He knows Steve is not likely to change and that he will be a hindrance to the new ideas needed for success. Steve’s personality and negative attitude are cancerous for the positive message Edward has for the bank.

They know what needs to be done, yet they are slow to act.

Yet Edward is hesitant to act. Why? New leaders are often confronted with this type of situation. They know what needs to be done, yet they are slow to act. There are two primary reasons for inaction at this point, and both are equally as detrimental to the leader and the team:

  1. First, the new leader rationalizes the short-term benefit over the long-term cost. In other words, Edward might rationalize that Steve’s institutional knowledge is too valuable to lose while he is trying to make a positive mark on the new bank. Edward becomes myopic or nearsighted to the point that he can no longer see Steve as a barrier to success.
  2. Second, the new leader assumes that the termination of a long-term employee will compound the current bad morale and make things worse. Edward believes that Steve’s termination will create more fear and uncertainty in an environment that is already struggling. The reality is the opposite. Every day that Edward does not take action actually begins to cost him the title of “leader” from his followers.Also, Steve knows that his beliefs and behavior are inconsistent with Edward’s message, and the longer he fights it and survives, the stronger his resistance becomes.

Edward and the rest of the organization are the losers if Steve remains on the team. Steve controls the change that is required. Even though it is not likely, Steve must decide that his prior normal was wrong and that he needs to embrace the change moving forward. Edward needs to tell Steve immediately that only legitimate change will keep him on the team. Knowing Steve is not likely to change, Edward owes him that opportunity as a leader. Once he has been told the expectations, if he fails to accept the direction and attitude necessary for success at the bank, Steve really does need to be fired.

Please share your personal examples...

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