The Power of Timely Decision Making


“A study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that ‘empowerment is a major motivator to employees.’ What lies at the very heart of empowerment is the freedom to make decisions. People want to do a good job and succeed. And, they do this best when they are trusted by leaders to take action, make changes and solve problems.”
> From “Decision-Paralysis: Why It’s Prevalent And Three Ways To End It”
> By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, Forbes June 11, 2015

Thirteen years ago, I was a completely different person. I was a 25 year-old recent college graduate, literally thrust-forward as the “tip of the spear” of the coalition forces as we pushed North, over the border between Kuwait and Iraq and into history during the opening hours of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cruise missiles had just flown overhead, closely followed by coalition aircraft with the sole intent of “shock & awe”. What most people didn’t hear about was the return volley of S.C.U.D. missiles that came a few minutes afterward, necessitating the use of MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear against the possibility of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear strike. Too bad the “big heads” at the top of the chain of command didn’t get the memo that Woodland Cammo MOPP Gear would stick-out like a sore thumb in the pale beige desert “moonscape”.

Pretty bad conditions, right? A little hectic… even if it’s just in your imagination, right?! Why don’t we take all of that uncertainty and fear you’re imagining and add to that the stress of being placed in command of a 3-person team, tasked to regularly go forward of most infantry assets in provide forward reconnaissance and call in a deadly accurate barrage of steel rain in the form of Artillery and Close Air Support? All while carrying well over a couple millions dollars-worth of “sensitive” communications gear. Sounds pretty rough, right? Sounds like a job that not many people in their right mind would want, correct?

Well, that was how I closed-out the first year after I received my Bachelors Degree. Just a young kid thrust into an extraordinary situation based on the needs of his chain of command.

The business world of today is a far cry from the stresses of the modern battlefield. It’s considerably more beneficial to a person’s health and well-being than a tour in a combat zone, but there is one aspect that is constant in both environments: Decision-Paralysis – the complete lack of ability to decide.

We’ve all been there before, whether it’s in a team meeting, the boardroom, or like the example that Sturt & Nordstrom laid out, in a Greek Restaurant. Many times, for both key stakeholders and entry-level “worker bees” alike, it’s due to not feeling like you have adequate authorization to effect change in your organization. Other times, it’s due to having too much information at your fingertips where you feel like you are being crushed under a mountainous mass of information. We all know that feeling where you wish you had more time to sort the wheat from the chaff… and you wish you had a few less cooks in the kitchen. At its core, it’s that feeling of being unable to make an appropriate decision in a timely manner. In the boardroom, it could cost millions… but on the battlefield, it could cost lives.

Sturt & Nordstrom come to the conclusion that the best way to ensure that successful decisions are made in a timely manner is by decentralizing the decision-making process, empowering individual contributors to discover the appropriate problem solving conclusions, as they are most likely the ones closest to the issue and therefore have the most interactivity with the pertinent data involved. They conclude by saying that:
> “Too often managers believe they are the decision-maker, not their team, and then wonder why their employees are not fully engaged in the decision, or the outcome. If we want to build a culture where people are empowered, we must see ourselves more like (a restaurant) server and facilitate decision-making, not control it.”

The most beautiful aspect of this line of thought is that not only is the decision-making process handed down to those who have the most connectivity to the issue at hand, but by empowering those to affect change, you are also facilitating the task’s completion and allowing those involved to take ownership of it’s success. By allowing a team member to have vested interest in the success of an individual piece of the organizational puzzle, you are in essence giving that team member an “ownership stake” in the overall success of your organization. This does two things:

  1. By showing that you trust the team to make appropriate and timely decisions, it builds the confidence of the team member and allows them the autonomy to exceed expectations the likes of which they never thought possible.
  2. By decentralizing the decision-making process to key teams/stakeholders in your organization, you make yourself available to address other issues or to spend more time on those issues that require more of your attention.

However, not fostering a culture of collective collaboration in the workplace tends to have rather dire effects. In “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy”, Captain D. Michael Abrashoff’s maintains:
> “As true in the Navy as it is in business, leaders are failing—and the costs are astounding. Conservative estimates put the cost of losing a trained worker at one and a half times the annual salary of the outgoing employee, as measured by lost productivity and recruiting and training costs for the replacement.”

We’ve all seen the ripple effect of what the loss of a skilled team member can do on an individual level. But let’s look at what happens to the health of the organization as a whole. Potential ramifications can easily (and quite rapidly) include: loss of team momentum, loss of motivation, loss of time (spend training up replacements), and loss of team morale. All of these potential individual and team losses lead both directly and indirectly to loss of capital due to the loss of workplace efficiency and productivity which will have the obvious negative effect on your organization’s bottom line.

For me, day to day professional life has WAY more similarities to military life than I would like to admit. Sometimes, those similarities bring a smile to my face, while others are maddeningly frustrating. However, that’s life – you know… the whole Lemons to Lemonade thing, right? Part of my personal attraction to working in the world of startups is that it’s amazingly reminiscent of living in the world of small-unit leadership in the United States Marine Corps. One minute, you’re rolling at break-neck speed to obtain a mission objective… The next, you’re pulling a 90-degree turn into a different direction entirely, all the while pursuing the new objective with as little to no loss of momentum as possible.

But how can success in either role be achieved, especially when the potential for loss of capital (or worse) is magnified by the severity of both situations? In my experience, success in either realm is best achieved by 1.) Having a plan and by 2.) Having the “rocks” to abandon that plan and strike off in a new direction as the situation dictates. The key in either situation is being able to make quick rapid decisions on a moment by moment basis, based solely on the information received. The key to victory achieved via small unit leadership, as it has been taught in the Marine Corps since before battles of distinction like Fallujah, Da Nang, Chosin Reservoir and Iwo Jima is that no matter who the burden of decision-making fell upon, the key was to keep moving… “always on the offensive – even when on the defensive.” This versatility in decision-making allows for the decision-maker to be able to change course quickly, effectively (and sometimes VISCIOUSLY) in order to ensure the over all effectiveness of his team’s achievement of the mission at hand.

The key component to the equation is ensuring that the small-unit leader is given the appropriate QUALITY of information. Battlefield Intelligence, as we’ve all read, can be cloudy at best, with assumptions and inferences driving many of the decisions of the operation. In small unit leadership, we learn quickly that “intel reports” are to be relied upon when crafting an initial plan of action, however, trusting that Murphy’s Law will always be in effect, we are also taught that whenever we have a plan, we should have the “situational versatility” to be ready to abandon that plan as quickly as it was crafted.

What does this mean in the business world? How in the world does this even apply? Consider that most of our quarterly goals, annual business objectives are all based upon “past performance not being indicative of future results”, but the intelligence derived from that past performance is all carefully cultivated data curated in order to paint an overall picture of health of the individual, the team, the department and the organization as a whole.

That information, not only of past performance, but also of extrapolated results in the hands of the appropriate individual (the “professional small unit leader) would allow for the individual to be able to analyze and adjust both their own as well as their team’s current course to achieve greater results on an almost instantaneous basis.
That’s where Chartio comes in.

Chartio as a Business Intelligence product allows for amazingly simplified adoption throughout an entire organization. Traditional BI tools were used by Data Scientists and Data Analysts to provide visualizations to their leadership teams for analysis on a need-to-know basis. The use of these BI Visualization tools became that much more prevalent in real-time/cloud-based dashboards as they started becoming regularly updated, easier viewed dashboard, available to those who monitored the health of each individual segment of the organization.

However, Chartio takes it to the next level. With a simplified connection process allowing for a close-to-instantaneous initialization process, Chartio has the capability for non-code-fluent members of your organization to be able to create, edit and update visualizations of their choosing using our innovative drag-and-drop menu. This allows for essentially every member of your organization having the ability to create, edit and view pertinent data that will drive faster decision-making process, nullifying decision-paralysis, and allowing for greater time efficiency which then save the organization countless dollars.

Take the example of military leadership structure. In allowing just Data Visualizations to be created by the Data Analysts/Scientists, to be digested by the Leadership team, an organization would be “choking off” the dissemination of real-time information to those who could use it most in order to effect the most rapid and hopefully positive change. The analogy of allowing the “military intel report” to be created by the Intel Officer only for digestion by the General and his staff members applies here with frightening alarm.

However, if we take the above recommendations of Sturt & Nordstrom in allowing the decision-making process to trickle-down to the individual teams, which are then provided with the highest quality of intelligence to effect their own course corrections as they see fit, we are not only allowing for teams to drive their own success, but we are allowing them to take an active part in the ownership of their own success. In doing so within your own professional organizational structure, you are essentially allowing your “corporate Non-Commissioned Officers” (who usually have the ability to make best decisions due to their close proximity to the hard data that goes into the intel reports) to drive the success of your company.

The United States Marine Corps has been more than successful in utilizing it’s brand of small-unit leadership since its inception in 1775. Why not use Chartio as your organization’s “intel officer” in order to allow for your organization to adopt it’s own brand of small-unit leadership in an effort to gain similar results?