Imagine you have a meeting with seven senior managers. The task of the meeting is to choose four customers to manage differently for the next 24 months. How long will it take to decide which four customers? Are you talking hours, or maybe days?
In most companies, it will take days. Why? Because people don't follow a process and stay focused. Some managers say the first thing that occurs to them about the topic. One manager mentions that to manage customers better you need a better CRM system. Another mentions that you need to coordinate staff visits by different departments to the same customers, because it's embarrassing when the customer tells you one of your colleagues was here yesterday. A third mentions they don't want anyone else telling their staff what they can and can't do.
Another manager asks a question, "How much business are we doing with each of the short-listed customers?" Then other managers start throwing around figures and debating which one is accurate. Yet another manager asks an important question, "Is it just about revenue?" Another manager answers, "Of course not, some customers don't generate much revenue for us but are very influential in the market place."
Stand back, and remember Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. To help smart people make decisions faster, remember that: Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.
Limit the time available
To get rapid results, you need to squeeze the time available, then you start to think about how you can be efficient:
- You need to have a common understanding of the background. (This can be done efficiently by reading a document before the meeting.)
- You need to agree how you are going to choose. (Again, share this before the meeting. Here are some possible reasons to choose during the meeting.)
- You need to agree how important it is to get the choice right. (Ask if the choice is irreversible or are there catastrophic consequences? Do you need to make a perfect decision in 12 months' time, or just the best decision today with the information available?)
- You need to decide how much time you will need to make this decision. Set a deadline.
During the meeting, you should do only the things that you cannot do by reading documents. Starting with the already shared information, debate the hard questions: the ways you will choose. What are the important criteria? Pick three - that's usually enough.
Factor A: 1 =low, 3 = medium, 9= high
Factor B: 1 =low, 3 = medium, 9= high
Factor C: 1 =low, 3 = medium, 9= high
Score = A + B + C
A little trial and error will show possible scores ranging from 3 to 27. In practice, in a list of 10 possibilities, the top 3 priorities stand out quickly.
Then, make some choices from the top 3, see what they look like. Do they make sense? Do they make you uncomfortable? Have you missed something?
Force yourself to make some choices and take some action to see how the actions look. For most decisions you can make a choice in 90 minutes and move on. In many companies that don't use a process, managers would still be going round in circles having interesting but unproductive discussions instead of deciding and then taking action.
Do you use time to make smart decisions and take action at your company?