We hear a lot of positive stories, and the ‘how to’ of successful leadership scenarios. This is not one of those. Let me tell you about the time when I got it completely wrong.

I thought as a junior officer I knew the intricacies of leadership and command. I didn’t know at the time how much I had left to learn, and still do to this day. Specific to this incident, was my lack of E.Q. understanding of stressor impacts, and conflict resolution skills.

Do not mistake my lack of experience for a lack of willingness to do good. I cared about my team, their families, their prospects and life goals but, the in-depth knowledge of how they all interconnected to either support or undermine the team was limited. Retrospectively, I believe that in this instance, I subscribed too heavily towards a ‘mission’ first mentality, at the expense of the team.

The Scenario.

For the purposes of this article let’s call the other person Bill.

On return from an Army exercise, a piece of very important equipment couldn’t be located. It was Bill’s responsibility. He was in a position of leadership at the time, and not being able to find it meant that my team was still working, when the rest of the unit had been home for hours. A terrible outcome for the soldiers and their families desperately craving to be reunited.

In this instance, I was unaware of the life stressors occurring in Bill’s life. Bill was always so cool, calm and collected at every turn that, it never occurred to me that his life was literally burning down around him. I had known Bill prior to us working together and he had a reputation for being a strong, fit, competent and professional man. However, I was focused on preparing the team for operations, fixing the overt issues and working on ensuring the team was at a ‘high performance’ level. I was thinking about the group as a whole and did not make the crucial connection of the group being made up of individuals.

Once the item was found, in his kit, I was livid. I counselled the person in a fashion completely contrary to my character. There are no excuses. Stress from a pending deployment, embarrassment from the counselling I received from my commander or even the disappointment that my team had missed out on even more time with their families, were no reasons for my behaviour. 

My counselling of Bill was aggressively vocal. It was completely uncharacteristic of me and shameful. An interaction that wasn’t lost on my team. Bill also did not take it very well and it had a lasting impact on him. It took time to gain the trust of my team back.

Lesson 1 – Provide clear vision and intent, the mission will happen.

If I had looked after Bill, provided a clear vision and intent, I would have enabled him to a way to tell me what was going on outside of work. Then, I could have worked with him to fix it and ultimately, set the conditions for him to succeed. Instead, I undermined his faith in me as a leader.

Lesson 2 – Stick to your values.

My response at the time did not align with my values (accountability and service). Where was my service to this man and how was I being accountable to him? It was my job to protect him and ensure that his faith in me as a leader was paramount.

Lesson 3 – Find space between the stimulus and the reaction. (Bram Connelly in his Warrior U podcast, Episode 01: KC Finnegan – USSF Major, he explains this well.

When the incident occurred, I should have taken the time to analyse and decipher the variables and considerations. The equipment had been found, that was a positive. While the team was the only one left, they were together and all unified in their search. This was uncharacteristic of him, what is wrong? If I had taken the time to absorb all the variables, I may have found out something that could have prevented a greater impact on Bill later.

Lesson 4 – Make the best decision you can with the information you have.

At the time, with the information I had, this was not the best decision I could make. I knew this man extremely well and I knew it was out of character. Instead of confirming information, I sought to transfer anxiety from my Commander to him.

Lesson 5 – Know your people, they are not their behaviours.

I didn’t find out until later that the interaction had a long term and devastating impact on him. It impacted his Afghan deployment and contributed to some long-term issues. To his credit, he reached out. He explained how the incident had impacted him and it was something that he had never really let go. I had no idea that the interaction had hurt him. It hadn’t registered to me as something that would have. 

Lesson 6 – If you are wrong in your approach, own it, TRY TO MAKE IT RIGHT!!

After he told me the impact the event had on him, I was gutted. So, I did the only thing I could and owned my mistake. There was an explanation of my thought process at the time and how with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I would have done things differently. Now, I am doing what I can to make it right. I keep in contact with him regularly and it is a constant reminder to stick to my values.

Dave and I have unpacked this a hundred times so that we can learn from it and never make these mistakes again. So, feel free to take a free one from my error. We use our experiences and lessons like these at The Eighth Mile Consulting because it keeps us accountable to ourselves and the good people we work with.

Dont be a jerk and never underestimate the impact your actions have on other people.

I left school at 18 years of age and joined the Australian Army where I undertook 4 years of tertiary and leadership training with the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon. Most of what I learnt in that time was structured academic education about leadership, management and tactics. I then graduated into the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and was posted to a Battalion in Darwin with a couple of my good mates.

After a very short time out of the College, I was informed that I would be deploying to Afghanistan in a combat capacity as part of Mentoring Task Force II. It meant that I would be responsible for a Platoon of soldiers (24 in total) for the duration of a 10-month deployment. The deployment would prove to be a crash course in leadership and growing up. Basic mistakes would result in death or injury and would likely have implications on an overall strategic campaign that influenced nearly 50 countries.

I thought I would take the opportunity to compile a list of lessons I learnt from the experience now that I am blessed with the benefit of hindsight. Hopefully, it helps someone out there.

Lesson 1 – Leading is not about you

When I left the Military College, I was incredibly self-focused and concerned, as I think most of the newly graduating officers were. My pursuit for excellence was largely overshadowed by a need to win, have a strong career and be accepted by my peers.

Afghanistan taught me very quickly about the importance of servant leadership. People were not interested in a leader that was career-focused. They needed a leader that:

  1. Could voice their concerns in forums where they were not represented.
  2. Could listen to different points of view and find patterns or links which could be formed into a robust plan in a short time.
  3. Was genuinely interested in their safety and getting them back home to their families and friends.
  4. Took an interest in them as individuals and not just an employee.

As my career progressed, I learnt that the more I protected my staff, peers and supervisors and represented their interests, the more plans started to work, and less time was needed to coordinate them. I was also able to work around red tape by leveraging off enduring relationships and loyalties.

Most importantly, I learned that a leader has to find their own style quickly. Copying other leaders doesn’t work, it wastes time, and presents as disingenuous. Furthermore, the world doesn’t revolve around you or your preconceptions of the world. It’s going to tick along if you are there or not, so go and make a positive legacy.

Lesson 2 – Don’t assume you know a person

I left the Military College as an easily influenced, right-wing, caucasian with very limited life experience. In a very short time, my platoon and I was dragged from the protective environment of Australia and spat into one of the most dangerous valleys in the world.

In doing so, this is what I learnt:

1. People are not their behaviour

Some Afghani’s and Pakistani’s that I met in my journey would educate me, by explaining that some of them were not fighting due to hate, ideology, or cultural difference but instead were fighting due to economic pressure, an attempt to save their family, or in order to protect what little resources they had left. I had falsely assumed that they were all out to kill me, and if given the first chance would undoubtedly enact a vicious plan against us. My preconceptions were proven wrong one night when I was in desperate need of help removing bodies from a drowned vehicle and a large number of Afghani ‘fighting age males’ offered me help when I needed it the most, and I was at my most vulnerable. Lesson learnt.

2. The most unsuspecting people are often the most impressive

I had soldiers that were far more educated and intelligent than myself and it took me a long time to find out how we could utilise it. In one such example, I had made a decision that had resulted in the drowning of a Bushmaster Vehicle because of a botched water crossing. This was acceptable tactically at the time as we had risk mitigated against some of the implications but unfortunately had resulted in my team being stuck on the wrong side of a very large water obstacle. Luckily for the team, I had a low ranked private soldier who knew about engines due to his background as a country farmhand. I made the deliberate choice of giving him hands-on control of the operation to recover the vehicle, and then subsequently coordinate the river crossing back to the safe side of the river. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say confidently that he handled the situation better than I could have, and the trust I placed in him to manage the issue was well invested.

Lesson 3 – Risk Management matters, but so does finding opportunities 

I left the college under the false belief that I was fit, fast and unstoppable. My analysis of risk was always skewed towards the capture of opportunity instead of risk mitigation. My approach to tactics was generally aggressive, opportunistic and decisive in nature. I have subsequently learnt that significant changes occur to people’s bodies in their early 20’s which significantly affect their brain. In short, the chemicals that were pumping throughout my body were the same ones that would subtly influence my decision making throughout the tour. They encouraged me to take chances where otherwise I would not have.

In recent years, I have fathered two beautiful children with my lovely wife and the thought of me accepting risks like the ones I undertook in Afghanistan seem laughable. Simply put, I have more to lose now, and hold responsibilities to others.

These days I think I have a reasonably well-balanced view of risk vs opportunity. I understand the importance of identifying and acknowledging risks and opportunities early and determining how palatable a risk appetite is for an organisation. For example, some industries like Software as a Service (SaaS) have incredibly high-risk profiles, as compared to aged care which is quite low. Knowing this helps shape plans, approaches and strategies that suit the context of that organisation.

Lesson 4 – Find the positives in everything

Sometimes it can be really hard to find positive outcomes in the grind of daily activities, but they are there. It is the leader’s job to find them when no one else can see them.

On 02 February 2011, we lost a very close friend of ours called Corporal Richard Atkinson. Richard was a Combat Engineer whose specialisation was finding explosive traps that were regularly buried in the ground by the Taliban. Unfortunately, on this particular day, one of the explosives detonated and killed Richard and injured another engineer. I had listened to the event occur over the radio some 20km away and was with my team a short time after. Not surprisingly the event had crushed the team’s morale and my own. I knew deep down that we were half the way through a long tour, and we had to get back on to our A-game very quickly, or else might lose another person.

My Sergeant and I developed a unified approach. We would focus on the positives we could find. In this case, we hadn’t lost more members of the team despite a strong chance of it occurring – we used this as a means of motivation to undermine the effectiveness of the Taliban attack. Secondly, we decided to refocus our team’s energy towards coming up with the plan for our next attack on the Taliban, which we did. Our next patrol would be one of the most effective of the tour as it was reinforced by an unwavering commitment to deliver harm to the people that had cost us so much. This refocus ultimately kept my team safe and alert for the remainder of the trip.

Summary

My afghan experience taught me a great deal about life and leadership. I am hoping that by documenting some of these lessons, others might not have to re-learn them.

I like to think that I have taken many of these lessons into my current role as an owner of The Eighth Mile Consulting. These lessons continue to be transferable to the business world.

There is some genuine concern and trepidation about taking the first step. My question is, is it actually the first step that you are stalled on? Surely we are continuing something that has already begun. The action is the next step after the idea. The ‘how’ is the next step after the ‘why.’ In that case, the first step has been taken and now we have momentum.

In any project or change there is a slight pause at the beginning, followed by, “how does this thing start?” The thought alone strikes fear into a project or change manager. Especially, if there are tight dead lines. (Aren’t there always?) With your permission, let me share some simple tips and tricks for getting passed the first (next) hurdle.

1. Think of everything as a next step, not your first. The first step is always the hardest right? So… take the next step. It implies momentum and movement. Try re-framing your thoughts from “how do I start this thing,” to “what’s next?”

 2. Focus on the ‘Why.’ If you don’t know the reason for doing something, try and find it. Whenever there is an absence of what to do and how to do it, refer back to the reason why. This will guide your decision making and give your team a context for their own. For example, if I am analysing a next step, I filter it with ‘Good people, helping good people.’ That is my ‘why,’ what is yours?

 3. Establish a timeline with key timings and dead-lines. Building in boundaries and times for delivery, keeps us accountable to something. We know that something must be delivered at a certain time. This focuses our energy and allows us to prioritise what is important at a point in time. This way, we are less likely to get lost in things that don’t matter.

 4. Keep a project/ change notebook (log) – when in doubt refer to it and regain momentum. Ever lost track of what you were saying and couldn’t remember the point you were about to make? Keep a log/ diary of actions and information (mostly to reaffirm the ‘why’) and when in doubt, refer to it. This will allow a systematic and logic method of back tracking to then regain your momentum.

 5. Have a sounding board or mentor that is outside the project – they will provide logical and object perspective. A fresh set of eyes on a problem set is worth its wait in gold. Have you ever heard the saying:

Can’t see the forest for the trees

It means, that we are so buried in the details that we cannot see the whole situation. Take some time to detach from the details and re-orientate on the holistic picture. A new perspective will reveal information that can be extremely useful. Also, refer to point 2.

 6. You aren’t alone, invest in the team. How often have we heard of the best ideas coming from left field, somewhere we had not considered. This starts with the team. Teams that solve problems together are inherently stronger. Invest in that and the team will not only help with the solution but own the outcome.

6. Solve a problem, Then another and one more. Once we have solved enough problems, we are back on track. The biggest threat to delivery is no action at all. We will talk about wasting time and ‘what is the wrong action,’ in a later article.

There it is, some thoughts that might help you through a sticking point and allow you to gain some momentum. I would really enjoy your ideas and comments. 

What gets you through a ‘freeze’ moment? Let us know in the comments below.

When I joined the Australian Army as an Officer Cadet in 2006, my goals were to:

  • Lead soldiers into battle,
  • Positively influence their lives, and
  • Make a positive difference in the world.

Throughout my time in the military my understanding of successful leadership techniques has dramatically evolved from a rigid, authoritative and top-down approach to a more inclusive, group-influenced and adaptive approach. But more importantly my approach to problem solving and decision making is what has potentially evolved the most, and that is what I would like to discuss in this paper.

I once read a book by a late Chinese militarist and philosopher named Sun Tzu, his most famous work being ‘The Art of War’, written to provide context to war and conflict. Originally written to consolidate some of the constants that define war, a large number of its themes can be applied to modern environments, organisations and situations. I found that one particular selection of his quotes stood apart from the rest:

“Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.”

Sun Tzu

This collection of references has colloquially been referred to, or summarised, as Sun Tzu’s ‘flow like water’ and is often loosely referred to in conversations everywhere. What is of particular relevance from this quote is its application to problem solving.

Throughout my life, I have observed leaders, managers and decision makers preach and assess others against throw away terms such as: flexibility, adaptability, initiative and effectiveness, however I personally do not believe that many individuals fully reach their potential in these areas, not through a lack of trying, but through a lack of awareness.

BYPASS OBSTRUCTIONISM

To apply Sun Tzu’s concept of ‘flow like water’ to problem solving we must first apply its relevance to our modern context by drawing a number of constants. Suppose, that an obstacle, hurdle or obstruction (or worse yet an obstructionist!) is likened to a rock within a flowing stream. Suppose further, that water (under Sun Tzu’s concept) is ever moving, constantly changing and reshaping, and is heading in one direction.

Every one of us has encountered a number of obstructionists throughout our own experiences. Characterised as that one irritable individual who has an inability to think laterally, who begins group conversations with ‘that can’t be done’, and lives happily in a world self-defined by boundaries and corporate governance. In the past I have likened such individuals to the’ Vogon Constructor Fleet’ from Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy;’ an officious group of aliens responsible for maintaining the bureaucratic processes of the universe, with no regard for innovation. Please note, when I refer to obstructionists, I do not refer to bureaucratic styled professions, in fact, adaptive thinkers within such job categories have the ability to transform whole organisations by streamlining processes and cutting red tape. I refer primarily to individuals who have turned to the dark side. A team of obstructionists can often lead to toxic relationships, and without fail will hamper an organisation or team’s competitive edge, particularly when delivering projects.

Leaders must be able to identify obstructionists, acknowledge their concerns, and then bypass them in order to ensure that momentum is maintained on overall task/project success. Many a leader has become unstuck by becoming bogged down in obstructionist detail, whilst losing oversight of the original task and purpose. In the Army a term known as ‘marking and bypassing’ is used to explain a procedure by which a team identifies an issue on the battlefield which is outside their scope and capability. This team will then promptly mark it and pass the responsibility to other more specialist teams in depth as opposed to dwelling on the problem. This term can also be applied to explain the process of identifying an obstacle in the workplace, marking its existence and then bypassing it in order to complete the task in time, on budget, and within specifications.

DEVELOP A POSITIVE CULTURE WHICH REJECTS OBSTRUCTIONISM

It is one thing to be able to apply Sun Tzu’s, ‘flow like water’ to your own practices, but how does one influence a team to apply the same forward-leaning, positive approach to problem solving?

Employ the right type of people

If organisations intend to recruit individuals long-term then employ those people that are right for ‘a task’, not necessarily ‘the task’. This meaning, that organisations need to ensure the longevity of their investment (their people), and ensure that when Project A is finalised, the same person might be able to easily transition onto Project B which might have an entirely different scope, stakeholder contribution and design. This is the true meaning of ‘flexibility’ when referring to planning. In practical terms, this might mean that organisations make an assessment on an individual’s potential as opposed to their qualifications. This might also mean that individuals are assessed on whether they are likely to fit the culture of the organisation based on personality, approach to problem solving, and their work ethic. If you have obstructionists in your team, find a way to negate their effects, re-train them, re-assign them (to a better suited role), or worse case remove them completely.

Publicly encourage adaptive and ‘out of the box’ thinking

Leaders must always encourage adaptive thinking by individuals who demonstrate initiative. Ideas and concepts from staff are simply that, nothing more, nothing less – it’s not personal! Furthermore, leaders must be able to identify those contributions that are obstructionist versus those that are complimentary or constructive to the planning process. Positive contributions must be acknowledged publicly to the entire team, and similarly, obstructionism must be identified and as such bypassed or negated. Just remember, you do not need to use everyone’s contributions, but you do need to acknowledge its existence and intent.

Leaders must take risks and accept responsibility

Leaders must apply the principle of ‘risk versus return’. A team which consistently adapts, evolves and adjusts to changing conditions needs to take risks in order to maintain pace with competitors. This ultimately results in higher risk for mistakes. Good leaders must accept the full responsibility for their team’s mistakes, and in return they will receive greater followership and continued involvement from their team. Remember, never blame your team! Also, a successful leader does not blame other areas or departments in order to shift blame and make a common enemy. The most successful leaders I have seen have demonstrated humility and have gone to extensive efforts to provide context as to why other teams within their organisation have made their decisions. Word travels quickly, and this positive gesture may be returned to your team at a later date.

Train your team to be able to plan in the absence of information

Successful and adaptive teams are those that get ahead of the game. They demonstrate the ability to plan in the absence of all the information. They make experience based assumptions that allow them to get to further stages of planning. These assumptions are then either confirmed or denied concurrently, or in subsequent stages of planning. In any case, the team maintains its momentum in the correct general direction. Obstructionists by their nature, feel extremely uncomfortable planning without all the information, and can be seen using it as a means to hamper/halt the planning process – do not let this happen!

In summary, do not be a Vogon! If people provide you with constructive ideas, first think how that information may practicably be utilised to better your cause, or your organisation. If you identify obstructionists, mark and bypass them, to find another way to win, and do not get caught in their detail. Remember, there is always a way to reach an end-state, it might just take a zig-zag path around multiple obstacles to reach it.

Flow like water – Avoiding obstructionism

We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.

Our experiences over the last decade and specifically, transitioning from the military into the corporate world has given David Neal and I some perspectives on characterising leadership.

  1. It is not easy and requires constant development
  2. It is lonely and the results rest on you
  3. It is not about you
  4. Be accountable

It Is Not Easy And Requires Constant Development

Leadership is not a nine to five ‘job.’ It requires constant evolution to remain relevant. The leader you were when you began the journey is not the leader you should be today. The lessons learnt, from failure and successes, will shape your leadership style and effectiveness. When you shift roles, projects and teams, the dynamic changes and the personalities change. Therefore, your approach must change. You cannot succeed if you do not continually develop. You will lack the tools to be adaptable in changing environments.

It Is Lonely And The Results Rest On You 

Poor leadership sees a need to lay blame upon others for failure, inability to gain results, poor performance or unmotivated teams. Subject matter experts may be involved in planning and preparation, tech experts may execute the practical and technical delivery but you own the outcome. A leader needs to maintain relevance in teams, actively fight to accept responsibility, and provide a means to buffer other members of the team from unnecessary business friction and white noise.  

It Is Not About You

Your co-workers are more important than you. This might seem confronting to some. If you genuinely care about your people, open yourself up to professional feedback on your performance from them. Your staff and peers will influence your projects when you are not present. By building rapport and loyalty, your team will protect your interests and the interests of the team. Many managers have been compromised by their employees applying ‘malicious compliance’. Meaning, they will abide by the literal directions provided by a manager knowing it will cause issues later.

Strong leaders fight for raises for their staff, not themselves. The outputs of the team will determine whether a leader is deserving of progression. Never forget the team that achieved the delivery. Especially those that surged, stayed late, put their own and their family’s needs aside to deliver an output that would ultimately reflect favourably on you. 

If you are unable to lead you have three options:

  1. Get out of the way and find a better leader 
  2. Become a better leader
  3. Create/Mentor a better leader

A useful explanation can be found in this article, “It’s All About The Humans: Effecting Change Management” by David Neal.

Be Accountable

Team decisions are your decisions. Own them and deliver the outcomes. Team decisions are your responsibility. If something fails, it is your failure (not your team’s failure). If you fail, learn from it and evolve. If it succeeds, it is your team’s success and make sure they are recognised for it. In the long-term, you may benefit from the team’s success but your personal recognition must not be your primary focus. 

Summary

These are our observations and in no way are they a sequenced road map to succeeding. That is your responsibility as a leader to find, and shape. David and I are passionate about leadership and investing in teams. We believe that people make a team, and teams make an organisation. 

A good leader can lead anyone. A good leader also knows how to be led.

We welcome any feedback on our ideas. We are continually evolving our leadership styles as well. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

For the last year Jonathan Clark and myself have been intimately involved with the implementation of a large scale Information Technology (IT) project which influenced almost all aspects of the broader organisation’s finance, sub-projects, customer data, product information, operations, manufacturing capabilities, retail centres etc. Prior to this project we were involved in numerous technology based projects within the Military, as both a deliverer of projects, and as key users. Our experiences have surfaced a number of significant recurring themes and lessons which we wanted to take the opportunity to share with those who had the time to listen.

Systems And Technology Alone Will Not Save You

We have observed an over reliance on technology, and a misconception that new digital systems will fix poor processes. They won’t! They never have, and they never will! Technology is not a silver bullet.

There is no doubt that technology can enhance an organisation’s productivity, capabilities and efficiencies; no one would argue otherwise as history has continuously proven this point. But technology without the right people to control it, guide it, quality check it, align it to strategic direction will almost always inevitably fail. By in large, people operate machines and computers, or at least as a minimum set them in the right direction. If people do not understand the strategic direction, the machines and technology will only seek to provide additional friction. Furthermore, changing a system for the sake of it costs money, time and resources. Too often organisations want to appear to be making changes in order to be seen moving, often very little time is spent on determining the actual reason for the change and the return on investment.

Change Management Is Not An Afterthought

Change Management is not a joke. It requires significant investment and analysis at all levels of an organisation. It is not the responsibility of a single agency or individual to promote change within an organisation. For large-scale change to be successful it requires leadership, champions, preparation and context. Too often, an organisation decides it wants a change but is not willing to give anything up to achieve it. Worse yet, no one is aware as to why the change is necessary or how it will occur. Change within organisations too often starts with the word ‘just’, and doesn’t fully comprehend the gravity of a problem, e.g. ‘justreplacing capability A with B’, ‘just absorb/move another organisation’, ‘just re-train group A into role D, etc.

Money, time and resources will be wasted if this is not taken seriously. The worst case scenario sees an organisation having to undo or regress its efforts. This can be so significant that it can destroy an organisation.

Leadership Is Not A Scary Word

You can change software interfaces and technologies, but unless you have user buy-in and ownership, the user will fight it to the bitter end. Furthermore, if there is no leadership to explain the context, facilitate the time for acceptance, provide a buffer for mistakes, then users will never see the need to make it work.

Jonathan and myself have been blessed with the privilege of having worked for, and alongside some truly amazing leaders in a plethora of different organisations (Military, government, commercial and non for profit). Very often we hear blasé comments about the differences between Leadership and Management, but often when people are asked if they consider themselves to be a leader they balk at the last minute and describe themselves as a good manager. Do not do that. Aspire to be a leader (if that is what you want), do not shy from the responsibilities associated with it and enjoy the privilege of providing meaningfulness to others, and effecting good changes.

Change Is Inevitable, Make Sure It’s The Right Change

“Change is inevitable; Progress is a choice”

Dean Lindsay 

Organisations will experience change, either voluntarily or due to the environments they operate in. Simply put, a business that doesn’t change or evolve with its industry will eventually be left behind. As a result of this many businesses appear to make reactive and impulsive changes instead of forecasted or deliberate changes that will posture them for future eventualities. This often leads to overcompensation and therefore an increase in costs and resources. Secondly, they are often very hesitant to align with realistic and achievable timelines and instead attempt to rush the change and hope for the best. Our experiences have reinforced the following rules regarding change:

  • Determine the direction of the organisation (what does good look like?) – Do not just start making changes!
  • Determine multiple ways to achieve the outcome – Take the time to analyse the problem.
  • Analyse what is not required to change – This is very rarely done correctly.
  • Communicate early and accurately with staff once a decision is made
  • Champion the decision – Enforce leadership at all levels.
  • Plan and sequence the change
  • Enact the change
  • Provide ongoing support to ensure success

There is significant benefit to be realised by enacting appropriate change management. Conversely the risk of getting it wrong can be monumental. Large scale changes (particularly technology based) will not work without alignment from all levels within an organisation. Do not assume the problem will go away with wishful thinking, and do not think you, or your organisation will not fall victim if you choose to ignore it.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the people.

If you would like to see more of our articles please visit The Eighth Mile Blog.

As leaders and managers, it is our responsibility to find credible information which assists practical and informed decision-making. Unfortunately, decisions often have to be made without all the necessary information available. A decision maker in these circumstances will often leverage from their previous experience, the business risks associated with the decision, and levels of authority bestowed upon them, to name a few.

From my own experiences I have often seen many people very uncomfortable making decisions without ‘all’ the information. This often takes the form of indecision, where business or situational opportunities are missed – often being capitalised on by a competitor or more flexible/adaptable team.

In the military the term ’fog of war’, originally coined by Carl von Clausewitz (military strategist) is often utilised to explain uncertainty during war, and addresses the complexities with gathering accurate and timely information. The metaphor is often used to explain to commanders the importance of making decisions with what little information one has; a very important feature of war, particularly in the pursuit of maintaining momentum towards a goal or end-state.

So why are some people so uncomfortable with making decisions in the absence of ‘all’ the information? The answer it seems is simple; people do not want to make the wrong decision – this is understandable without additional context. They also presume that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect decision’. What if I told you there is no such thing as a ‘perfect decision’, and that the need to maintain momentum should be, in most cases, a stronger driving force. This is not to be confused with making rash or ill-considered decisions, as this can be equally damaging and frustrating to co-workers.

I would argue that that the purveyors of the 80% in time, as compared to the 100% too late rule are often those that excel in competitive markets, and generally maintain momentum towards project success.

Sir Richard Branson once said,

“There’s no such thing as perfect decision making – only hindsight can determine whether you made the ‘right call.’”

Branson placed greater emphasis on gathering accurate information in order to answer specific questions of fact, which would later either confirm or deny a decision to move forward. Too often people appear to be gathering information without a good understanding as to what decision it will influence. In these instances, people are most certainly busy, but unfortunately they are often collecting the wrong information. Quantity in this context does not ensure quality.

So what can leader and managers do to ensure they are assisting their teams with collecting the right information?

  1. Categorise your questions of fact – Determine what one must know/must have vs what is nice to know/nice to have. In some cases a metric or means of measuring the data will assist in knowing when it has been successfully gathered upon. Greater emphasis should be placed on answering the questions which will determine go/no go criteria for the project.
  2. Ask the right questions to the right stakeholders – Too often we are not engaging with the right people, nor asking the correct questions. When engaging with SMEs ensure that your question: is used to drive a specific decision on your end, and is asked in the correct language or vernacular (note: words have different meanings to different organisations). Don’t assume everyone speaks the same technical language -Engineers vs Project Managers is a recurring theme in many industries.
  3. Streamline data collection towards specific questions, which will confirm or deny a specific decision to be made – Effective Project Managers are those that can adequately define the Project Scope and ensure the project remains orientated towards a measurable end-state. If people are collecting information that does not target a specific decision, stop collecting it.  
  4. Sequence your data collection to align towards project milestones – Note: you often do not need all the information at that point in time. Some information will only become relevant later. If you wait for all the information you can miss critical opportunities as the project evolves.

In summary, if you have enough information to make a reasonably informed decision – make it! Nirvana is never reached in the pursuit for the perfect decision.

 We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.