Carole, the chief executive officer of a mid-size software-as-a-service startup, was talking with Leon, her coach.
“I’m so confused,” Carole lamented. “I’m great at building procedures. I even have a procedure for building procedures. But, that procedure is letting me down. This new world of remote-everything, secure-everything, flashy-everything is too different from what I’m used to. I don’t know what procedures my team even needs now, let alone how to build those procedures.”
“What has changed that your procedure no longer applies?”
“I’m not clear on that. All I know is I no longer know how to move forward.”
1) What changed?
“Which part of this problem would you like to start with?” Leon asked Carole.
“Let’s start with identifying what’s changed. Maybe if I know what broke my process, I can understand how to adapt it.”
“Sounds like a plan. What signals are telling you that your process is broken?”
“I’m constantly being asked to make decisions that would have been automatic before. My executive team is telling me the same, as are their people. It’s like no one can make a decision anymore.”
“These are all experienced people who know how things run?”
“Yes. We’ve blessedly held onto all of our senior leaders.”
“They’re all working in the same areas they always have?”
“Yes. Nothing has changed organizationally.”
“This is happening uniformly throughout your organization? Everyone is affected?”
“Yes. At least through my top two or three levels. It’s as though everyone woke up one morning with their decision-making abilities surgically removed.”
“It happened to everyone at the same time? Including you?”
Carole paused, remembering back over the last few months. “No,” she said eventually. “It’s been building up. At first, it was just one person and one question here and there. It took me a while, actually, to realize how pervasive the problem has become.”
2) What are you feeling?
“How have you been handling everyone coming to you for decisions?”
“At first, I assumed something was special each time. My people wouldn’t be coming to me if the situation wasn’t extraordinary, after all. So, I gave each request my full attention. Dug in, gathered the information and context I needed to guide my people in making the decision.”
“How did that work?”
“It took a lot of time. And, I often ended up being the person making the decision anyway.”
“How did you feel about that?”
“Increasingly frustrated. I didn’t understand why they weren’t making decisions they’ve always been comfortable making. Especially once I realized I was becoming infected with their decision-making paralysis.”
“So, you found yourself swimming in unknowns, with no solid ground to stand up on?”
“Yes. And, I’m tired of treading water. I can’t start swimming to shore because I have no idea where it is.”
3) What questions can you ask?
“So, your senior leaders are all having difficulties making decisions. This built up over time. Nothing else inside your company seems to have changed.” Leon summarized.
“That’s right. Oh. So maybe something outside the company changed.”
“We certainly haven’t had a shortage of change in the world.”
“That’s for sure. The change must be coming not just from outside my company, but from outside the factors we already consider.” Carole paused again, pondering. “That gives me some places to start. For one, I can check in with our key customers and suppliers. Maybe they’re experiencing the same breakdown in decision-making. Whether they are or they aren’t, they can tell me what changes they’ve noticed.”
“Either way, you’ll have information you don’t have now.”
“Which can only help. I can also talk with my family and friends, ask them what they’ve noticed changing these last few months. I can ask my team that, too. Maybe just asking the question will prompt one of them to understand part of what’s going on.”
“Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have further increased your pool of information.”
“That’s what I need more than anything else, I think. Information.”
Move into confidence and clarity
“I’m feeling a lot more confident now,” Carole reported. “While I still have no idea why this is happening, nor do I know how to solve it, I do now have a plan.
“What’s more,” she continued, “I’m starting to form a new procedure for fixing broken procedures. First, identify what changed. Then, identify what I’m feeling. Next, identify questions I can ask. Finally, use all of that to take a step. While it may be just one step, it’s still a step.”
“Every journey begins with a single step, as the aphorism goes,” Leon agreed. “And, there’s always a step we can take.”
“And every step I take gives me information. Information always leads me to clarity. That and the confidence I’m regaining have always been my foundation. Thank you for helping me start regaining them.”
“You are most welcome.”