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Posted on: Sunday, 16 May 2010 by Rajiv Popat

At one of our clients office, who for the purposes of this post shall be called Multiplitaxion Inc we have what I call a decision-execution-crisis.

You know, those meetings where really smart people who have done really big things in life and have achieved really serious sounding designations on their business cards carefully position their asses on really soft chair and talk about really sensitive topics like the future of the organization, the future of the product, the official-name of the product, the official editions of the product and the features the free edition of the product would contain.

Did you notice the use of the word 'talk about' and the absence of the term 'decide' or 'act' in the above paragraph. The use of the word 'talk' was intentional, because while a lot of talking happens in these meetings there is often very little decision that ultimately gets taken and even lesser real work happens on those decisions.

It's not about what your manager says in these meetings that matters. It is how he acts after a couple of these meetings that matters the most. Does he get stuff done or does he act all tied and helpless.

Michael Lopp describes his practice rather articulately in his book Managing Humans. He explains:   

When the new VP showed up for his first day at the startup, he was wearing a Members Only jacket. Sky blue. I didn’t know they still made these throwbacks to the '80s. A jacket that lived under the tagline, “When you put it on, something happens.”

I’d given the VP a thumbs up during the button-up and tie phase of the interview, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Three months in, we had a problem. Members Only was doing a phenomenal job of discussing and dissecting the problems facing engineering. We’d leave meetings fresh with new ideas and promises of improvements, but then nothing would happen. OK, so follow-up meeting. WOW! He gets it. I’m fired up again. Let’s roll. Umm, two more weeks and nothing is happening here.

Michael in the same book also describes the problem with most managers who conduct these meetings and love the idea of talking strategy, ultimately getting nothing done. He adds:

The act of delegation is a slippery slope for managers. Yes, you want to figure out how not to be a bottleneck in your organization and, yes, you want to figure out how to scale, but you also want to continue to get your hands dirty.

Members Only's problem was he believed his job was purely strategic. Think big thoughts; delegate the results of those thoughts to the minions. He was a pure delegator and he’d forgotten how to do real work.

Pure delegators are slowly becoming irrelevant to their organizations. The folks who work for pure delegators don’t rely on them for their work because they know they can’t depend on them for action.

This slowly pushes your manager out of the loop and, consequently, his information about what is going on in his organization becomes stale. Then, the CEO walks into your boss’s office and asks, “How’s it going?” The third time your boss gives the same generic answer, the CEO goes to you and asks the same question. When you respond with, “Well, we’re fucked,” the CEO has an entire other conversation with your manager.

Real work is visible action managers take to support their particular vision for their organization. The question you need to answer for your manager is simple: does he do what he says he’s going to do? Does he make something happen?

And its not just about strategic changes or the steering the organization or the product through its future path. I am talking simple decisions here.

How long does it take your organization to get you a whiteboard in a meeting room when you tell them that you guys desperately need one. How long does it take your organization to fix network patch chords in your meeting rooms. How long does it take for your organization to reduce your meeting count when you tell them you are sick of attending them and want to focus on work for sometime.

Measure your manager's and your organization's ability to take decisions and then act on those decisions. If they are able to take decisions and act on them, you will be just fine, even if those decisions aren't correct or even if they are failing and learning at each step.

On the other hand, if nothing ever gets decided and nothing ever gets done at your organization, maybe its time to get your act together, figure out why your organization cannot act and do something about it. Procrastinating with your organization will not get you anywhere in the long run.

As they say, You can Change Your Organization or Change Your Organization.

Either ways, I wish you good luck.