This is part one of a twelve part series on the characteristics and habits of the people, the high performers, that create a “done done” culture. If you've read my book on virtual teams, or heard me present, you know that “Done Done” is my way of defining a high performance environment with a culture of hard work and success – a culture of accountability and professionalism.
Habit One: They Make Decisions & Take Action
It’s likely you don’t know Gary Klein. There’d be no reason for you to know him – after all, he’s a cognitive psychologist. How many of them do you know? More importantly, he’s a researcher, so if you’re not reading decision-making journals, there’s a chance you’ve not come across his findings. But you don’t need to know him to understand that what he’s found out about decision-making – particularly among highly capable highly experienced professionals.
How do you make decisions?
Before I tell you what he found out about high performers, I want you to reflect on your own decision-making. How does it work for you? Let’s say you step into a meeting where there’s a lot of pressure and you’re the senior person in the room. Everyone’s looking to you. Five questions have to be settled. What do you do? Do you just go with your gut on all of them? Do you decide which ones are the most important ones and have a discussion about them? Do you first knock out the easy ones and then spend the remainder on the hard ones? What if each of the five was more than just important? What if these were life and death calls you had to make?
When Gary first began researching the decision-making process, he assumed (like most of us) that the prevailing method would be the evaluation of options. Come on, if you’re like me that sounds like the most reasonable approach, right? It’s logical. You can weigh the pros and cons. Hell, you can even make a nice list of each and score them, right? What he feared is that people in life-threatening decision-making situations were likely only choosing between plans A and B (anchoring, to be technically correct) and limiting their options. He imagined he could help them by evaluating options C – Z.
Is that how you’d do things? Even if it’s not – it’s likely that that’s how we’d talk about them, right? Because we want to sound smart. We want to sound like we weighed everything out and made logical and calculated decisions.
No time to waste
But guess what? That’s not what he found. In 1985 he looked at over 25 fire ground commanders – the top guys on the ground making decisions in the midst of life and death fire situations. They had an average of over 20 years experience. And he reviewed over 150 decision points. In less than 15% was there any sign of multiple option comparisons.
High performers don’t waste time even evaluating two options. Instead, in over 80% of the decision points the process was simple:
- Find the pattern that this problem belongs to.
- Find the action that is logical when facing this pattern.
- Waste as little time as possible. Decide and act.
Maybe you’re thinking that his 1985 study is unique. It’s not. He created the recognition-primed decision (RPD) model and has evaluated it in the field several times since them. Each time it’s held up. High performers decide and then act. You can second-guess them all you like later, but they’re too busy performing to worry about you.
What’s it like in your office?
Do you know people like that in your office? People who are second-guessing you all the time? Or worse. They’re second-guessing themselves – so much that they don’t get anything done. They’re in constant analysis paralysis. And in some corporate cultures, making the wrong decision is worse than making no decision. So no decisions get made.
Just make the call and move on
One place where making the wrong decision will kill you is if you happen to a fighter pilot with the Air Force – a group of people that Klein spent time with. If you don’t do everything right, when you’re flying that expensive hardware in the sky, you could crash and die – it’s really that simple. Yet while they all start with rules and checklists, eventually they internalize it all and no longer need the rules. Like firemen, they just make the call and their actions are an extension of who they are.
Let me ask you something. Regardless of what you think about Kobe Bryant as a person, when he charges the basket, do you think he’s evaluating speed, the force of gravity, the co-efficient of friction as he moves thru the air, and the probabilities of different players getting in his way? Do you think, as he’s moving towards the net, that he’s crunching teraflops of data to determine whether it’s leap, turn, twist, or leap, twist and then turn? Maybe, and I’m going out on a limb here, maybe he’s just internalized it enough to just decide and act.
The First Habit of a “Done Done” Culture
High performers – whether they’re athletes, firemen, or fly planes really really fast all have the same thing in common – they make decisions and they act on them. While others slow down to deliberate, high performers are already three steps into a plan of action. A plan they may not even be able to fully articulate until later.
Why is this the first habit of twelve that you need to get right when you’re establishing a Done Done environment? It’s critical because it moves you away from the central command and control architecture of most leadership structures. High performers act. They don’t circle the wagons to discuss things and come to a group consensus. If you develop an organizational structure that requires group consensus before action, you will never create a Done Done environment. Want to know what else? You’ll never keep high performers on staff. Because that centralized structure, analysis paralysis and constant second-guessing is death to them.
Here are some questions that are worth exploring with your team:
- What kinds of problems do we really need to circle up for?
- What kinds of problems could we each handle on our own?
- What worries us about making a wrong decision?
- Do we have structural challenges to rapid decision-making?
As you ask these questions, know this. I’m not suggesting that you invite young staff to go out and just do whatever they want. Remember Klein’s research was with veterans that had over 20 years of experience as they stepped in the field to make decisions. I am suggesting that you look at your organizational structure and your decision-making procedures to see if they’re holding your high performers back from being able to decide and act.