Decisions at the Moment of Truth
By Lior Arussy
recently attended a Formula 1 car race in Europe. Being
close to the pit and having a special access pass allowed me to view
all the activities surrounding the cars and the way they were managed.
Although I have seen car races on TV before, the actual
experience was much more amazing than the TV version. Many
aspects of the car race were intriguing, but one particular aspect
caught my attention above all the others. During
the race, cars pulled into the pit for refueling or for other critical
maintenance services. Those services are provided
by a team of about a dozen engineers who each do their specific part
under severe time constraints. In an environment
when every second counts, those services are often completed in under
a minute and off the driver goes to continue the race. No
team can afford an unnecessary delay of even a second and everyone
works together to complete the tasks in the most efficient way
possible, something akin to choreography. In fact
during the race I attended, a Mercedes McLaren car was pulled in three
times at the beginning of the race due to engineering problems.
This would normally lose the driver a significant amount of
time and standing in the race. However, as the
result of successful teamwork, those delays were held to a minimum
allowing the driver to still win the race.
what is it that caught my attention? The decisions
made in split seconds by the engineers. Each
engineer is empowered to do what they believe is right without
escalation to management or requiring approval in three copies.
They simply cannot afford to work under those conditions.
Decisions are fully delegated, both authority and
responsibility, to the engineers at the pit. They
are the ones with the most information and they see the problem with
their own eyes. Because of this, they are empowered
to do the right thing. I was especially impressed
when a number of cars, which had more severe engineering problems,
were simply pulled out of the race altogether by an engineer’s
decision. The driver, who was earning millions of
dollars, had no say on the matter and the engineer decided.
Why? Because at the moment of truth, that
engineer has the most important information required in order to make
the decision. Neither earning power nor hierarchy
has anything to do with making the right decision. Seeing
the problem first hand and having the experience and relevant
information is what matters the most.
the right decision at the moment of truth by the people who actually
face the problem is a true test for every organization. On
paper, every executive swears that his employees are empowered to make
those decisions, but when the moment of truth arrives, many employees
will default to the boss to actually make the decision. Unlike
the engineers at the Formula 1 race, the employees will not take the
risk of making a critical decision. Why is that?
There are several reasons employees fail to make decisions at
the moment of truth.
to See the Moment of Truth:
We often think that the caller will wait for us and therefore we
fail to deliver the desired result right away. We
fail to see the sense of urgency and the limited window of
opportunity we get from callers to do what is right.
Employees are often not provided with the necessary information to
make decisions at the moment of truth. This
lack of information impairs their ability to make decisions.
For many managers, empowerment is a threat. A
threat that, if employees were able to make the decisions, they
themselves would be redundant. Although they
will not admit to having this fear, their actions speak louder.
Our experience shows that there is a certain percentage of
employees who simply seek a paycheck, not greater responsibility.
They do not want the extra pressure and accountability that
comes with the decision making process.
To make split second decisions requires sharp intuition; a high
level of intuition that comes with experience. Without
the experience, employees will hesitate to make decisions.
build this ability to make decisions at the moment of truth in the
organization, managers need to provide their employees with the level
of trust that guarantees that they will be there to support them.
This practice is very common at Southwest Airlines, which
places the employees first and the customers second. Following
years of lack of trust in most organizations, employees once again
need to believe that their organization, and more specifically their
mangers, will be there to back them up. One way of
doing this is by openly and freely sharing information and
experiences. This will build the confidence level
of employees in their ability to make decisions and support them with
logical data. Doing this goes far beyond merely
information sharing, and requires managers to overcome their
controlling inclinations and let go of power.
true test of an organization’s resilience and competitiveness is the
ability to make decisions at the moment of truth. These
are the moments when customers test their vendors. Impatient
customers do not have time to wait for escalations and managers’
decisions. In today’s competitive environment,
employees can no longer be there just to register the complaint.
Organizations which allow their employees to make decisions at the
moment of truth are simply accelerating their performance.
Escalation mechanisms usually slow down overall performance and
result in the loss of business opportunities and revenues or leads to
stagnation due to inaction. Either option is unacceptable.
I were to ask a Formula 1 engineer, “How did you make that
decision?” He would most likely respond, “I had
no choice. “ He simply acted on instinct and used
his well honed knowledge to do what was right at the moment of truth.
He knew that every split second of hesitation may have cost his
team the whole race, or even worse, the driver his life. This
same notion should be instilled in every employee if you ever want to
achieve a level of super competitive performance and win the race to
the heart of the customer (and his wallet too).
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