John R. Brandt, of the MPI Group, wrote an amusing piece in the recent Industry Week: Leadership in Manufacturing. The gist of it, and my comment, follow. Does any of this ring a bell?
"Many people say to me: John, how can the decision-making in my company be so screwed up? Were my bosses born stupid, they ask, or did they somehow evolve backwards into vicious, tiny-brained reptiles? Is there any way, they lament, that we can make it better?
...my friend Andy...and his colleagues compiled a massive amount of practical research in bad decision-making...into one brilliant graphic on a cocktail napkin. This image -- an inverted cone with increasingly compressed, dense layers -- perfectly summarizes how decisions are made at almost every corporation."
John also implied that CEOs do goofy things like ask their grandchildren for business advice. My comments on John's story:
"...Knowing that the best humor has a grain of truth, I went digging through your friend Andy's Gravity Fed Decision cone. Tell him it would be a pretty good model for improvement if it started with Stage 2, BENCHMARKING, focused on Stage 3, PANIC, and zipped through Stages 1 and 4. On the cocktail napkin, it would look like a diamond with a fat middle.
Benchmarking is a good place to start because it means middle managers and others are asking questions about what they do and comparing themselves to competitors and peers. They are validating their processes while picking up a few ideas for improvement. These are good things to do, even if they take some time. In Stage 3, rather than shaming executives for deferring actual decisions to workers closest to the customer, this is actually quite smart. This is the level where good operational decisions do happen, and where many strategic decisions--with the CFO--should happen.
As for the stages of FEAR and ENDLESS REVIEW, I have come to appreciate that the best executives have learned that any front-line insights they ever had are either too narrow or obsolete. They also have learned to lead by wisely serving those at the heart of the business, rather than by being served like royalty. Unfortunately, many people in lower levels have not learned this and behave like serfs; many executives have not either. They are puzzled and somewhat embarrassed by the gap between what they give and what they get from the organization.
Talking to their grandkids is one way to work that out."