I am sure that I am not the only person who has sat through what seem to be endless, unproductive meetings. The discussion goes in circles and it seems impossible to come to a decision, and even if a decision is reached, oftentimes the execution never really happens. Perhaps some that agreed to the decision to end a meeting had no intentions of actually acting upon the decision, or through inaction or lack of cooperation, the decision comes to naught. Is there a way out of this?
According to Ram Charan, in an article in Harvard Business Review*, the quality of the dialogue that a company’s culture supports will either foster good decisions or encourage ineffective decisions. According to Charan, there are four characteristics that, if properly supported by the company’s culture, will lead not only to god decisions, but decisions that are actually executed.
First of all, the dialogue leading to decisions must search for the truth. Charan points out in his article that if the outcome of a meeting is pre-ordained then the quality of the dialogue will be poor. If an executive has already made the decision ahead of time, and does not seek the true opinion of others, then the decision will be resisted in other ways such as inaction or poor effort. I would also add, it may leave people wondering why the meeting was held in the first place!
The second factor for good dialogue is allowing unpleasant truths to come forward. There is little doubt that many people do not like to have unpleasant conversations or negative truths surface, yet it is vital in order to get to the truth of the matter at hand. Without the truth, it is impossible to get to a good decision. The trick is to remember that the emphasis here is on the truth, not any one participant’s viewpoint, and that the discussion cannot get personal.
Next, a complete range of ideas must be discussed; hidden agendas will be the death of any decision. How then to be sure that all ideas are proffered? It takes a skillful meeting leader to ensure that all ideas are surfaced; I often like to have a neutral person who has no stake in the outcome lead such a meeting. That person is then able to concentrate on holding a good meeting without worrying about their own input.
Finally, the decision that a group arrives at must be confirmed by action and consequence. Before the meeting breaks up, any action that must be taken to support the decision must be defined (better in writing) and each individual that is responsible for an action must be identified. While that may not the time to delineate consequences for lack of action, there must be explicit consequences that all are aware of (annual reviews, salary decisions and advancement) to support action.
Charan also notes that the best way to instill this type of decision making in an organization is from the top down. When a top executive actively practices and promotes clear decision making and holds him/herself responsible to start with, it will be easier (if not easy!) to instill the technique throughout the organization.
*Conquering a Culture of Indecision, Ram Charan, Harvard Business Review, January 2006.