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Volume 10 | Issue 2

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

On Taking Action

In this letter, I am departing a bit from my traditional approach and stepping away from the subject of conflict resolution and its various facets. This letter will focus on that which indirectly drives actions, producing, among other things, conflict. Leaders, whether in business or government, need to take action on many things and often do so with very little information on which to act.

It is, therefore, especially critical that the information leaders have is accurate and timely, emphasizing being timely. My experiences over many years taught me that the latter part of this statement matters most.

In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3, Brutus and Cassius argue over what action to take – to stand where they are or advance. Brutus believes if they wait, their opponents will gather strength, and in arguing his case, he states …”There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

We are afloat on such a full sea, and we must take the current when it serves or loses our ventures”.

I used this quote in one of my training programs, and it formed the basis for Chapter 4, Taking Action, in my Book The Monday Morning Checklist: A Guide for Experienced Leaders in a Busy World.

The following is an excerpt from that chapter…”Established leadership consultants and trainers such as John Maxwell, Seth Godin, Jack Canfield, and others of similar caliber speak and write about the importance of taking action. When you examine their advice, they remind us that in business, nothing is static. In this chapter, I will ask you to examine what you do to translate into actions the many ideas, problems, and opportunities you confront…”

…”I will start with an analogy I used with a recent client. He had difficulty dealing with the gap between implementation and performance and how his people responded in that lag time. As noted in the previous chapter, the lag time between implementation and performance is inevitable. To get past his frustration, I used the example of the electric dynamo.

Most people with basic knowledge of electricity understand that our modern electrical industry and most electrically powered devices, regardless of size, are powered using alternating current. That technology became the foundation of electricity as we know it because it is more efficient than direct current. More efficient means less costly.

On the other hand, Dynamos produces direct current through a commutator device. In the discussion with this client, I explained that the A/C motor won out over the dynamo because it did not need the commutator. These devices (commutators) are less efficient because mechanical devices need maintenance and repairs more frequently than other electromechanical devices.

I explained that he was like a dynamo generating direct current. The organization as a whole was his commutator. He did not recognize that his “commutator” inefficiencies were outside his control. He did not understand that his role was to recognize inefficiencies and design actions to minimize and/or mitigate that reality – that “given.”

In the same way that mechanical devices have limitations, so do organizations. While he could accept that fact academically, he was struggling with its reality.

Even with one’s best efforts, actions taken by leaders in response to changing priorities don’t always have the anticipated outcomes. I reminded my client that even good leaders don’t execute the timing of decisions in the right way…”

What does this example of a commutator have in common with Shakespeare’s words in this famous play? People hesitate when taking a risk. We all want as much information as possible before making an important purchase or moving to a different town or job, and leaders are no different. When we hesitate, we begin building that gap between expectation and performance.

When someone decides to buy a car and waits until January of the new year, they may miss out on year-end discounts many dealers offer. Others will wait too long to invest in stocks. The balance between acting too soon and too late is difficult to find and grows more complicated the more significant the risks involved.

Most leaders know this gap exists and use several approaches to narrow it as much as possible. This is especially true in two areas – marketing and risk assessment.

In marketing, leaders need to identify the optimum time to launch a new product or service or to take their products into a new market. Regardless of that company’s size, the leader needs to spend money and resources to gather data, and once that information is in hand, identify the gaps, assess the demand for the product or service, shape how the plan is to proceed and catch the rising tide.

Similarly, the leader must have at his hand an understanding of the consequences, both positive and negative. His risk management needs to include the identifiable risks, the steps to reinforce positive outcomes, and the steps to mitigate adverse outcomes. These are unyielding truths.

Yet, what is genuinely astonishing is that Anheuser-Busch, an iconic American company, damaged itself needlessly because its leadership forgot those two basic rules: make sure what you know is accurate, and be sure as you can you are timing your entry into a new market correctly. They forgot the goal of a company is to sell a product or service that is reliable, safe to use, and, when possible, superior to that of your competitor.

Companies pay their leaders, sometimes enormous sums, to know what their competitors don’t and act on that knowledge when it matters most.

Of one thing, I am sure; there is no metric for success ever invented that includes metaphorically poking your existing customers in the eye with a sharp stick.

Unfortunately, Anheuser-Busch is not the only company that believes these enduring truths no longer matter. I find it peculiar that any company, a beer company, a soft drink company, or a company producing animated films for children, finds it necessary to sell something the customer does not want.

Food for thought: “Once the facts are clear, the decision jumps out at you.” (Peter Drucker)
Also: “If you don’t appreciate your customers, someone else will.” (Jason Langella)

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