I was working with a firm in a session the other day and we had one of those moments of clarity. They had done some great work in previous meetings and had set the stage for growth decision making by taking stock of relevant hard and soft assets of the firm, carefully integrating objective outside information and developing a set of choices.
It was logical that they were ready to converge and decide on a path. It’s the final turn to having a focused strategy: moving from a list of attractive candidates to the handful that you’re going to get behind and invest in.
Having Great Choices: Right Where you Want to be Correct?
Well yes and no.
There is a big gap between choice creation and decision making. Choice creation is fun and addictive work – it feels like one can create without bound. But, making decisions to focus always means that you are also choosing what not to work on, and for some in the group, saying no feels like a loss.
This is a false choice, however, because every firm runs better when the teams are not overburdened with too many programs and priorities. It is easy to take a smooth running firm and introduce “just one more” project that slows the whole firm down (if this is you, check here and here to start).
I shouldn’t have been surprised when a circular dialogue began, and after significant debate during the second time around the table, I needed to call the question: whose decision is this and what was their culture for making it?
So how would you have answered? Who is the “Chief Growth Officer” in your firm?
This innocent query can be a confusing question, as the role of Chief Growth Officer is rarely an official title. It could be a tenured VP under the COO, a strategic business unit P&L leader, the CTO, the marketing leader, or perhaps a very strategic sales leader.
Frequently, I find the role is “owned” by two or three people in the firm, and it can be very confusing as to who is accountable for which portions. It’s somewhat like a doubles tennis match when the ball goes perfectly between two players in the zone of confusion.
Sometimes a role is explicit and clear. For example, frequently the CFO has the measurement and the reporting responsibility for new initiatives. They may even have the best seat to see if the strategy is clear and actionable enough. The CTO may be charged with keeping the full technical investment picture in focus and making sure that we have the right ratio of projects to senior staff.
More commonly, the Senior Leadership Team tacitly assumes that they have this all worked out, and the usual muddle is just how we roll. This typically leads to commitments that are based on the intuitive drift of the moment, rather than process and data-based decision making.
A Four Step Answer
This is really a decision process question that masquerades as a strategy question. If the underlying option development work is sound (and it was), then what we need here is a pathway to commit the firm to action and assure full management team support.
These scenarios show up in firms that have done the work of setting up a “professional” management team with a distributed set of roles and accountabilities. In firms with a founder owner present, frequently they just differ to her and she makes the call.
Assuming that you have a high-functioning, distributed team, what things need to be done to harness all the talent and move the group ahead? I would recommend four steps:
- Develop a specific and shared mutual commitment of what must be true to make this a good decision. Make a list and put it in the notes. This is the agreed to “platform” that we will base our deliberation on and use to set guard rails for the debate.
- Decide how we will decide (ahead of time). It’s surprising, but most firms have never had a direct discussion of how they will decide. Is it the CEO’s call? Is the CEO expecting the operating team to bring one recommendation for final approval? Are we going to debate until consensus is achieved? Each firm is free to carve out a process that fits (example here).
- Agree that we will have a vigorous, fact-based debate. However, when we make the call, we will all support it – and will work to make the decision a success.
- Agree to a mutual and robust communication plan for what you’ve decided. It needs to be multi channel and repetitive to really create the clarity you are looking for.
So, after we “backed up” and laid some decision process framework, the group began to get real traction. Then rather than the frequent win/lose outcome, we were able to hammer out some unique and powerful next planks in the their strategic framework.
So how do you make the final choices of Growth programs in your firm? How successful have you been at engaging both the operations team and the strategic team to come to an agreement? Do those on the front line perceive that the leadership team is in one accord, or are they looking for who “won” and who “lost?”
Quality choice creation and decision making is the heartbeat of setting a great growth plan. If you’d like to discuss having a diagnostic tune up for your choice creation and decision process with an objective view, please give me a call at 847-651-1014 or use this link to set up a 20-minute (no strings attached) consult.