Published by Scott Neilson on 25 Feb 2014

Skill Development – Decision-making

A key to making good decisions is having options.  Simple!  As I am fond of saying, leadership is not rocket science.

Unfortunately, the world moves so fast that we often feel the need to decide and act quickly, and we do so to our own detriment.

I encourage you to slow the decision-making process… take the time to vet your own decisions more carefully…cultivate multiple options.


Take the time to sleep on your decisions…literally, sleep on it…especially the big ones.  Fight the need (internal or external) to come to closure immediately.  When making a decision, get in the habit of saying to your team that you will get back to them and confirm the decision.  Do not feel compelled to tell them why…just that you will get back to them with confirmation.

Learn to think through the steps necessary to implement your decision.  Envision that process (of implementation) and what results each step might have.  How will those results impact successive steps?  Is it getting you to the endpoint you desire?

Cultivate multiple options.  I have found that the best way to make a decision is to have options.  As soon as you find one suitable solution, go out and find another.  By doing so, you will become less emotionally wed to your first solution.  This enables you to be more objective in negotiations.

One is NOT enough…

Published by Scott Neilson on 19 Dec 2013

You talkin’ to me?

My observation is that we are getting worse and worse in communications in the business world.  We do not talk WITH each other…we seem to talk ALONGSIDE each other.

Here is what I mean.  Try this the next time you are in a group of people talking.  Observe the conversation rather than participate in it.  Count how often people actually follow a discussion as opposed to start new ones…generally about themselves.  For example, one person will say something like “I have decided that I am going to move to France for a year.”  Following the conversation would mean responding with something like “Really, where are you thinking of living?”  Or, “That’s such a great idea, France is a beautiful country.  Why are you going to do that?”  In other words, building on what the other person has said and developing the subject…striving for greater content and understanding.

My observation has been that there is an increasing tendency for people to talk alongside each other…to reply with a statement about themselves rather than follow the conversation.  In this example, talking alongside would mean responding with a statement like, “I have travelled to France a thousand times” or, “I lived in Italy for six months”…statements that do not build on the subject that the individual has raised, but rather turn the conversation toward themselves.

The problem is that this is not communicating.  Responses like that do not help to progress the discussion.  People are not listening and trying to truly understand what the other person is saying.  It reflects a craving for attention.  It reflects a focus on oneself.  Most importantly, it results in a low level of understanding about what is being said and what the implications might be.

In a business setting  it can also be a means for people to push their own agenda, or direct the flow of the conversation in that direction.  Be aware of this.  It can be a very specific and conscious tactic to control the discussion and the progress of the team.

As a leader you need to be aware of your group dynamics…who is dominating the conversation…who is pushing the conversation in their desired direction…who is being left out or overpowered.  Your facilitation skills need to be very sharp.  Picking up on issues like these and bringing people back to the subject under discussion will not only keep the team focused on the issue at hand and making progress toward it, but it will help ensure that personal agendas are kept under control.


Published by Scott Neilson on 08 Nov 2013

VERY good article…

Check it out.

Published by Scott Neilson on 29 Oct 2013

Making the tough decisions…

A big part of leadership is making the tough decisions.  No secret there.  They pay you for it.  Everyone expects it of you.  You bear the responsibility for it.

However, there are a couple of interesting issues about making the tough decisions.  The decision you make, right or wrong, is often not what you will be judged on most harshly.  What people are often most critical of is (1) how timely was the decision, and (2) how, what and when you communicated about it.

For this post I want to focus on what you communicate.

If you fail to adequately communicate the reasons for decisions, employees will draw their own conclusions, and probably not favorable ones, and justify being resistant to your leadership.

A lot of leaders do not feel comfortable talking about the tough decisions they have had to make, such as laying off people.  They feel that employees will not understand, will draw the wrong conclusions, will be demotivated, and will leave the organization if you tell them the “why’s” behind a particular decision.

Instead, those leaders make the tough decisions and then “bury” them hoping people will just forget.  Over time, they do…forget the details.  What they do not forget, though, is the feeling of unfinished business.  It leaves behind questions, uncertainty, and doubt…and those feelings become the seeds of distrust and waning confidence.

While there are certainly times when leaders cannot discuss the details of decisions that have been made, there is a lot of room for improvement in this area, and a lot to be gained.

I think that leaders do not give employees enough credit for being able to process and handle difficult information.  They can handle more than you think…and you should explain more than you do.  It builds trust and confidence.  That trust and confidence will buy you the benefit of the doubt in those inevitable situations in which you cannot discuss details.  It also helps them understand more of the important issues at stake in your business and the complexities of managing them.

Try being a bit more open about difficult decisions you have had to make.  I think you will be surprised at how well they will understand it and handle it.  They may not agree, but they will be able to handle it.  Most important, they will respect you for having the confidence to explain difficult actions, and for respecting them enough to share that kind of information.

Published by Scott Neilson on 05 Mar 2013

Are you getting the information you need to lead your business?

One of the toughest parts of being a leader is getting the information you need, when you need it.  There are several factors working against you in this regard.

First, I find that people often do not know what is the right or relevant information.  They do not have a clear understanding of their business drivers and what they should be monitoring.

Second, we all suffer from having multiple systems in-house.  Changed or varied systems means that the information you seek is often in multiple places, has changed formats or varied calculations which make it tough to combine and understand.

Finally, sometimes people inside your organization actually don’t want you to have that information.  They may feel that it exposes them.  They may feel that your visibility to that information will lead you to want to change something, and that will require something different from them (change).  All this may sound a bit cynical, but it has been my experience and observation.

As the leader you have to identify the right things to measure.

  • Study your key processes.
    • Determine what outcomes you are trying to achieve.
      • Back track through those processes from the endpoint to the beginning to determine where you have control.
        • Develop metrics to measure and manage those aspects.

Once you have identified those points of control, you must define exactly the information you want to measure, and how to measure it.  It may seem obvious, but you must check the details of the math behind the metric with everyone who is generating it.  You have to take the time to drill down into the details to be sure that you are getting what you really need and have asked for.

…you have to be sure that the metric is being accurately calculated, or you will be drawing false conclusions about the performance of your business…

As an example, in one organization we had a metric of errors per data file.  The target was 98% error free.  As it happened one business in our group was looking at each file as three files since the customer was splitting the file for use by three different departments within their operation.  If there were any errors they were only reported once, but the “number of files” was 3 times what it should have been.  In their calculation of their metric the denominator was three times what it should have been so their resulting error rate was 1/3 of what it should have been.  It seemed that their performance was far superior to those of our other business groups until we discovered the difference in calculation.

Though it seems like a small thing, you have to be sure that the metric is being accurately calculated, or you will be drawing false conclusions about the performance of your business unit, and making decisions based on bad data.

Finally, to be sure that you are not being blocked from the data you need, and to ensure that the data you are getting is accurate, triangulate on the data…use multiple sources to collect or verify the information you are gathering and using.  In that way you can more easily identify inconsistencies or errors.

Published by Scott Neilson on 29 Jan 2013

Beware the “NON”- data…

I have seen many instances in which people have  made decisions based on bad data…or NON-data.  I distinguish bad data from non-data in that bad data is either out of date or inaccurate in its calculation.  Non-data is data that is not relevant to the decision being made.

Last week I was watching an interview with some prominent individuals following the horrible events in Newtown, Ct.  Needless to say, the discussion was about gun control options.

One of the participants, a very high-profile politician, was taking the position that changes to gun control laws do not work.  He emphasized his point by giving the example that Chicago has invested lawmaker time and taxpayer dollars in changing gun control laws, and there were still 512 murders in Chicago last year…the highest in the country.  This from a prominent politician.  This from a man who at one time was vying for the office of President.  This on national television in front of an audience of millions of people who will believe what they hear from this person because he used a statistic.

The sad part was that the moderator and all of the other participants nodded in agreement!

While it may be true that Chicago had 512 murders last year, and while it may also be true that 512 was the highest in the country, it is incorrect to draw the conclusion that changes to gun control laws were ineffective based on those two pieces of data.  The relevant statistic would have been to compare the number of gun related crimes for a period of time prior to the changes in gun control laws to the current number for an equal amount of time after the gun control laws were put into effect.  Another would be to compare the rates of change in gun related crimes in Chicago to other major metropolitan areas in which no laws had been changed for that same period of time.

Folks, we gotta be smarter than this!  It was no accident that this individual used ridiculous data to make his point…he is quite bright and he has an agenda.  He knows that most people will not think beyond the words to draw their own conclusion about what he has said.  This is true not only in politics, but in business.  Things get moving fast and we rely so much on data that comes off the computer often without really knowing the derivation of the data and the calculations that are going on in that black box.  We often do not take the time to make sure it is real data, yet we make important decisions based on it.

You must challenge the data…verify the accuracy of calculation…ensure the relevance of the information gathered in relation to the conclusions drawn.  Do not assume that the data you are being given is correct and without bias.

Published by Scott Neilson on 17 Oct 2012

Right here, right now…

“Being a leader is not about forever, it is about moments…it is about THIS moment and what you do with it!”  Scott Neilson

One problem people encounter in leading is believing that every decision they make is forever.  It isn’t…particularly in business!

A decision is made at a point in time with the information you have available to you at that moment…and we all try to make sure that we have the required information to make the best decisions possible.  However, you should recognize that the moment you make a decision, new information becomes available that may make that decision obsolete.

The decision making process is a moving target.  Trying to envision all possible future scenarios and make one decision that never requires modification rarely, if ever, happens!  If you are waiting for that you may never make a decision.

Get comfortable making the decision that is right for the moment considering your best prognostication for the future.  Make it clear to those around you that this is the course you are on given what you know now.  Know that new information WILL become available and when it does, you will make the required course corrections.