Bias for Action - a delusional style that is hurting your company

sharks You know the scene.  In the normal hubbub of working life where everything is urgent AND important, you are under pressure to deliver.  More than that, you are under pressure to be seen to be delivering.  “What are we doing about…?”  “Haven’t they got that sorted yet?” The sharks start to circle. Take a view, pick an action, get some people to get on with it.  Get it sorted. Politically, that’s great.  Takes the pressure off you, makes you look dynamic. Best thing you can do now?  Move on.  Quick.  Why?  Because this great piece of research by Paul Nutt, Professor Emeritus of Management Sciences in the Fisher College of Business, shows that what might have been good for you in the short term is pretty bad for the company in the medium term. Based on his study of 356 decisions, Professor Nutt makes his own key point best: “Half the decisions in organisations fail” He goes on “…these failures can be traced to managers who impose solutions, limit the search for alternatives, and use power to implement their plans... Tactics prone to fail were used in two of every three decisions that were studied.” Some specifics are that
  • Implementation by persuasion has a 50% failure rate (persuasion is the basis of most change comms)
  • Implementation by edict depletes your store of social credit and leads to resistance so high these decisions are often withdrawn
On the other hand, “Managers who make the need for action clear at the outset, set objectives, carry out an unrestricted search for solutions, and get key people to participate are more apt to be successful” So, when you
  • Establish direction with an intervention and an objective
  • Stress idea creation
  • Identify more than one option
  • Address social and political barriers
the success rate goes up, to 92%! The scary bit?  These decision tactics were used by only 7% (yes seven) of cases in the study. For managers – there are good and bad ways to make and implement decisions.  Be aware that where the pressure of the corporation takes you may not be the best for the organisation.  If you need a political decision quick, at least be aware of the increased likelihood of failure, and mitigate. For executives – Think about what happens when the pressure is on.  Do you create an atmosphere that encourages experimentation?  Look at how your organisation behaves when something ‘urgent’ comes up.  Does it look for quick answers, get hooked on adrenalin, point fingers and doubt?  Don’t blame your managers – only you can change that.  People inherit and follow the culture they are in.  If you want better decisions and better change YOU need to change the climate to allow that to happen. For political leaders and electorates – you are going to have to ignore the newspapers someday!  This evidence shows the present day ‘follow the latest poll’ politics as in conflict with good national management. So go ahead.  Jump at that next decision.  Get the sharks off your back.  Just don’t fool yourself that it is the right thing to do. Neil is Commercial Director of ChangeSchool Ltd. Contact him at