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No time for a full calculation. Punch it Chewie! Oh there’s a planet: Boom we are all dead!

In essence, this is a bit what business is like now. The threat of the exponential disruption is the Empire on our tail, the calculation for the jump to lightspeed is the thinking we do before we commit to doing something; the reward is staying light years ahead of the competition, but the risk in business really needn’t be death by planet impact.

The impact in business might just be that we learned that what we thought customers would like, they didn’t and so our hypothesis was wrong. If we are smart, it didn’t take us long to find out and it didn’t cost much either. So in essence there’s less risking taking a number of well planned but short bursts at the speed of light than one big leap with less thinking on the way. There, Agile and Lean through Star Wars in two paragraphs. ;^)

So, if that’s true then why are organisations bad at making decisions? Well it really depends on cultural environment, team dynamic and that scary word governance!

I’ll expand in a minute on each of these, but here’s the context. Over the past few weeks we have been writing about the Amazon shareholder letter from Jeff Bezos and picking up on a few points. Last week Kursten talked about the dysfunctions of teams and this week it’s my turn to talk about what the letter calls: High-Velocity Decision Making and how you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions.

The aim of this is essentially, how do I take the best decision and balance risk and reward. Simples! Not. So what are the big factors affecting this? I’ll touch on some, not all, that I think are relevant and that I expect you may recognise if not agree on.

I am going to stay away from the generalist list of things that make corporates bad at innovation and focus on the ones that I think are most relevant to what enable good fast decisions. These are summarised as:

Cultural Environment, Team dynamic and Governance

I was going to separate these things but I think they are so inextricably linked that we can contextualise them in the real world at once and summarise what is killing fast decisions.

Top down Governance is a real problem

To focus more on the positive proof point, here’s a construct that I think is useful:

  • The team has all the skills in it to do the job. It is a Product or Value Stream engine
  • The ability to deploy a quality working technical solution at will is essential. Love or hate Agile, it gave us Continuous Delivery of Test Driven solutions; and that’s worth having.
  • The ability to know when to write code and when to manually prototype is a given. This is the gift of Lean User centric and Design Led thinking.
  • Management and Executives are really clear on the measurable outcomes they would like to see
  • The C suite trust the team to deliver the highest value thing next and show up to see their customer facing product evolve at showcases
  • They give constructive and positive feedback in the right proportion to critique
  • They explain this Value driven model to the Board eloquently and business results are measured with data
  • The Team take accountability for: the vision, the objectives, the hypothesis they use to test their way, how they will test them, that they value learning through retrospective with data and how they will adapt and win
  • The goal is to get to the best solution by testing hypothesis, often without writing code and always with data before they elaborate

This isn’t hypothetical. This has been the teams, I personally and we at TEA have had the privilege to be a part of in companies both small and huge. So we know this can work.

This is the construct we seek to create in the clients we work with and in the places where this happens, amazing business outcomes manifest through highly operationally effective and efficient teams of motivated happy people.

The culture in these places is one where highly skilled people are trusted and empowered by the organisational leadership. Things that suffer in these environments that also slow things down are:

  • Long term business plans and business cases – They become less relevant
  • Long term roadmaps – A fictional myth and a hinderance to following value
  • Functions mapped to theoretical ROI – A total statistical guessing game
  • Multi level approval forum’s – Working group, steering group, exec and board approval – Often monumental and unnecessary waste, if there is genuine trust.

These are things we did in the past that simply aren’t relevant in the world where you can build a billion dollar business in six months. Similarly I cannot name one business I have been in where this type of Governance assured success any more than dancing at Burning Man or praying.

I’m not advocating for throwing boards and executives away, simply for their involvement and skillset to be relevant to the world of business in the exponential age. Business has moved from the waterfall, top down, plan then execute, asset heavy, industrial age to the distributed leadership, inside out, plan and execute, software eating, Information and Knowledge age.

Moving to these models requires great courage, amazing people and trust. And then it gets harder because teams, as Kursten says, are often dysfunctional. I think that there is one huge lever that screams out of those five things:

The most successful teams exist in the Knowledge and Information Age where people can display vulnerability and have emotional security.

This excellent article summarises the outcome of Google’s Aristotle Project. No one yet has codified how to really build this into teams but my bet is that distributed, trust, accountability and self empowerment with open communication are parts of it. The ability to be self aware enough to disagree and commit is a rare form of enlightenment.

So maybe the bottom line is. Hire grown ups who embrace diversity and show that they can change their minds. Here the role of a leader is to open people up to listening, understanding and sometimes realising that it’s not all about them. There’s is just a possible hypothesis to be tested next.

To summarise, fast decisions are made in places with:

  • Slick self governance
  • Autonomous self motivating teams
  • Culture that reflects the view that leadership and innovation are everyone’s to display
  • Responsibility and Accountability are taken, not granted

We think it’s right to challenge the status quo and to call out that things need to change to really enable success. We also know that change takes time. That said, self disruption is painful, brave and bloody near impossible if you don’t allow the people you hire to safely find their own way.

We can help you through this change through real experience and an amazing network because sadly, in this case I don’t think that using the force is an option…

Guest post by Justin Tomlinson

KS