Years ago, I had a client who actually used to say, “Fire! Aim! Ready!” when he was issuing some decree or other. This business owner acknowledged he was shooting from the hip, reacting suddenly and without considering the impact of his words or his actions.
Often there would be collateral damage, when his of-the-moment command or policy didn’t account for all the aspects of a situation or account for other initiatives that were already under way. Too frequently, employees ended up doing double work, cleaning up whatever original, irksome circumstance he was trying to remedy, plus calming whatever chaos the owner had created after thrusting himself into the middle without analysis or deliberation.
Some senior execs don’t have the intestinal fortitude to hear about problems or opportunities. Others tend to hold their fire until the situation is appropriately researched or delegated to the right decision-makers. But many leaders still want to be the one to announce that a need has been handled or a problem resolved. The urge to demonstrate power can turn even tough businesspeople into people-pleasers who try to satisfy the most recently aggrieved party rather than evaluate the facts and merits of the situation.
Slow Down So You Can Speed Up Later
It takes barely a moment to decide that something stinks and needs to be remedied. But it’s a real gamble to try to change things immediately after noticing that they’re not working. Making real, lasting improvement takes time and care to avoid confusion, blowback, or unnecessary costs.
My client was used to having his way, and he didn’t mind having others clean up after him. But if you’d like to leave less mess in your wake, consider these three common situations in which it makes sense to try to reduce downside risk:
- People Complain, “We’re Not Moving Fast Enough!”
If you sense panic, anxiety, or significant intensity in someone’s presentation of a situation or their evaluation of a problem, don’t just respond to their level of emotionalism. Instead, take the time to do a quick check from multiple points of view, even if a decision has been previously delayed.Do you have enough hard data and qualified opinion, including input from your team members with relevant expertise as well as from the people who will be affected by the new decision? Is there likely to be a different outcome if you take action immediately, using only what you know now, rather than waiting to amass better data, come up with more alternatives, and assess the long-term impact?
- Make the Declaration Now or Keep It Quiet
Should you declare publicly — whether to staff, customers, or the general public — that there’s a problem or that you need to make a change? Or should you try to resolve it behind the scenes before you talk it up?Making a big proclamation too early, before you have real results to show, can end up looking like puffery and make you lose credibility with your audience. It’s better to pilot, prototype, and progress through trial and error — that way you can make a larger commitment and point to some successes along the way. But don’t wait so long trying to make things perfect that you’re accused of lack of transparency or competence.
- The Devil You Know vs. the Pain of the Status Quo
Should you invest in change or not? Should you discipline an employee or give negative feedback to a supplier, knowing that the situation might actually get worse, rather than better? Is it more advisable to take action or live with small annoyances? And what about the annoyances that have been hanging around for years? Is it worthwhile trying to tackle them?Improvement is always worthwhile. But you can’t fix or change everything at once, so ensure your efforts pay off by choosing your priorities. Which issues are mission critical? Which ones hold crucial symbolic value for your employees? Pick your challenges intentionally rather than reacting to every possible disruption.
Don’t Do Anything; Just Stand There!
Unless you’re facing blood or fire, it helps to think for a minute before acting. Slowing down to consider alternative options and ramifications doesn’t mean you have to do a three-month study or get caught up in analysis paralysis. But it could save you from making numerous course corrections or see-sawing from one problem to another. Of course, pausing may not be as exciting as if you lived on a firing range, but you’ll surely save on wear and tear.