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How to Stop the Dreaded "Decision Drift"
Have you ever had a meeting that didn’t quite go as planned? Where everyone has agreed on a certain course of action, and two weeks later you discover that what they were working on is nowhere near your vision of what should happen?
When such situations arise, we usually blame poor communication. We did not communicate clearly. People weren’t really listening. We thought we had a consensus, but we didn’t.
Miscommunication can certainly play a role, but there is much more at work beneath the surface. This situation clearly shows how the way our brain works can undermine even our best intentions.
When we reach consensus on a decision or procedure, everyone seems to agree on the surface. But as soon as people leave the meeting and start making snap decisions, their underlying attitudes and assumptions get in the way. They usually don’t have the same attitudes and beliefs as you, so they make decisions that are different from the ones you would make.
As each new decision is made, this process evolves until everyone ends up miles apart on the project. So you get together for a follow-up meeting and everyone’s like, “What it happened?”
Fortunately, visionary inheritance comes to the rescue (supposedly “Lone Ranger” music).
Visioning success is based on the brain’s inability (on many levels) to distinguish what is real from what it is being told. Used by top athletes around the world, it relies on the brain’s ability to spur the body into action when it sees a clear end point or goal. There are many ways to use success visioning. In business, I recommend the following:
Begin by using future, active, and past tense questions to define victory or excellence. For example, “When we achieved success in working well together, how often did we touch base? What decisions did you want us to make together, rather than me informing you about it? Who else works with us and how did we keep everyone informed? What are the most important what are we going to focus on first and how are we going to make sure we all stay on track?”
Note that these questions use a past tense voice, as if they had already happened. Here’s why.
When we start with the present tense, our brains usually fill in all the reasons why we can’t make something happen. But when we convince our brain that we’ve already achieved success, it doesn’t know that we haven’t. Thus, it fills the gaps between today and the target date with innovative solutions to achieve success. He focuses on winning, not on what’s in the way.
The future, active, past tense of questioning helps paint a picture of success between the individuals involved, often revealing expectations that would otherwise not see the light of day. Once the conversation reveals what success looks like in a specific time frame, it becomes much easier to meet each other’s expectations and work together as a team.
Visualizing success can also help determine more effective ways of working during meetings. For example, start your meetings by asking:
- When we had a successful meeting, what decisions will we make?
- How will we make these decisions most effectively?
- How will we get all the necessary information?
- Whose contribution will be most critical/important?
- How do we expose any assumptions that underlie what we decide?
For ongoing conversations, especially around sensitive issues or areas where people have a lot of passion, make your thought process visible. Explain your assumptions and the data that led to them. Give examples of what you are proposing and explain who will be affected, how and why. Encourage others to explore and challenge your assumptions and data. Find out where you are least clear in your thinking and stay open to different points of view.
To ensure alignment, ask others to make theirs thought process visible. Explain your reasons for asking and ask questions like, “What makes you come to that conclusion? Help me understand how you got to that point. Tell me more about why you think that way.”
This process begins to reveal the underlying beliefs, assumptions, and meanings that others have about the topic under discussion. Only when we understand why someone’s belief or behavior can we make decisions that both parties understand and can abide by.
At a strategic level, visioning for success can be used in a process called ‘destination modeling’ to help organizations clarify what winning looks like. Most companies have clearly defined financial goals. Destination modeling involves going beyond financial metrics and painting very clear pictures of what it will look like when you win in other areas of the business.
For example, when we have achieved our marketing goals:
- What new products will we bring to the market?
- Which new markets will we serve?
- How will we be known in these markets?
- What new competitors will we compete against?
- Which new team members will we include?
- What new systems, processes and technologies will we use to serve these markets?
Again, use future and past tense questions that set the goal as if you have already achieved it. Your brain, in many ways, cannot tell the difference between mental images and reality. So when you paint a picture of victory, she actively looks for ways to make that picture come true.
Of course, companies must monitor financial indicators such as revenues, cash flow and margins. But they usually don’t motivate, inspire or engage employees. Use destination modeling to draw detailed pictures of what winning looks like in other areas of your business, and you’ll be surprised at the alignment that emerges.
Use your brain power to clearly understand excellence. Share your thoughts with each other. And use destination modeling to define victory in every area of your business. You’ll find that everyone in the organization is running the same race, and you’ll never again have to start a follow-up meeting wondering, “What it happened?”
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