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C-Level Mistakes Can Be Eliminated

Late Friday afternoon a C-level partner overrides a department manager and changes the production order of a time-sensitive project. It appears to make sense. One job has 250,000 units and is due in 4 days, the other has 30,000 units and is due in 5 days. They are both for the same major car dealership. The 30,000 were originally scheduled to run first. The schedule is changed and teams are shifted from one project to the other. The order goes out and production begins over the weekend in order to meet the deadline.

Sunday afternoon the manager calls in, checking on this critical job, only to find out that her schedule is no longer in place. Discussions begin and she explains why they will fail on delivering the project on time. Yes, the 250,000 units are due 1 day before the 30,000 and the machinery used needs to be dedicated 100% to each job. The problem is that the 30,000 units need additional machining on another set of equipment. The original plan was to run the 30,000 first and move them to the next stage while the 250,000 ran on the original machinery, allowing both jobs to be completed at the right time. This is a recent, true story.

In one form or another, mistakes like these happen every day in business. They affect productivity, morale and the bottom line. Of course it is easy to look back now and offer a simple solution…why not just confirm with the manager at home? You can come up with several reasons why or why not. You can pass the buck, dodge the questions and justify why the decision was made OR you can do something so it doesn’t happen in the future.

So what really happened? The decision made by that C-level partner made sense AT THAT TIME…to him. The fact is that nearly all decisions make sense when people are making them. And therein lies the challenge. If people believe what they are doing is correct at that moment, why would there be any more need for thought?

There are multiple factors involved and all of them have to do with how the brain is wired. The current wiring has been around for 60,000 years. The amount of information that is now available to people has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. That is .0033 of the total years of modern humans. The human brain did not evolve (yet) to deal with the thousands of decisions we make daily, so it does its best. Sometimes it is right and sometimes it is wrong, but it will always err on the side of survival.

The brain’s original wiring isn’t concerned with making a production deadline, hiring the next superstar or launching a new product. It’s main focus is whether or not any of those will affect it’s (your) survival. The brain has many mechanisms to do this and they are highly influential on our behavior. Every sensory input you have and every response you make is influenced, in some way, by the brain’s survival mechanisms. Understand this and you can consciously modulate those influencers and move decision making to the rational thinking area of the brain when it counts the most.

There are two simple strategies you can use to modulate the survival influences on decision making.

Part of survival means conserving resources. 60,000 years ago you weren’t guaranteed to eat or drink for several days. The brain is an energy hog using 20% of our daily resources. Knowing this, it is constantly looking for ways to move processes from “high energy” areas to “low energy” areas. That means responding to outside stimulus as much as possible without conscious thought…this includes physically answering questions.

We have all answered a question and then immediately corrected ourselves and said, “I don’t why I said that.” The reason is that your brain used as little energy as possible and delivered the best answer at that time for the resources used. Therefore, it made sense at the moment, even if the moment was only a split second. Research shows that slowing down decision making gives your brain a chance to catch up, glean through the information and deliver a better response. Dramatic results are produced when a decision is delayed less than 1 second. That is the first strategy.

The second strategy has to do with manipulating where the “survival” processing is and redirecting the focus to the rational area of the brain. This is achieved by asking questions that don’t allow your brain to deliver a “low energy area” response. In other words, ask questions that force you to think consciously.

Let’s go back to the C-level partner. What if they would have stopped for 5 seconds and asked themselves, “How can I confirm this decision is right?” Put yourself in the C-level position and ask this question. I am sure you could easily come up with more than one answer that would have avoided the problems that transpired. The real takeaway is to realize that is doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to produce optimum decisions and therefore optimum results.

There are just two rules when it comes to asking questions. One, only ask one question at a time. Two, give your brain a chance to answer it. Don’t underestimate the power of asking the right questions at the right time. Driving organizational success depends on it.

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