“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that!” This is according to the Red Queen, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. But it might as well be being said about living and working in 2023. The flip side of the increased speed and efficiency coin is that everything is expected to speed up, including things that perhaps should not be.
Pause before you tee off
I was thinking about this during a recent golf game. Yes, I could move from tee to tee and from ball to ball at high speed. I could jog instead of walk, or even sprint. Or I could take the golf cart and drive at top speed to where I need to be. But is it useful to continue this sense of urgency as I strike the golf ball? Do I throw my golf bag to the ground, grab the first club that comes to hand, and swipe madly at the golf ball, hoping for the best and congratulating myself on just how quickly I am moving around the course?
Of course not. Whether I arrive at the tee at a leisurely pace or at high speed, I take a beat, look at the lay of the land, gauge the wind speed and direction and other environmental factors, look at the upcoming course layout, and then decide on the next step, where do I want to position myself for the next stroke, select a club and take a few practice swings. And only then do I hit the ball.
If I have made a good decision on what to do, and then executed it well, I suspect the outcome will be far more successful than that of the speedy version of me. Ultimately, I think, the time spent on deciding the next step and carrying it out well will more than balance out the missteps, poor swings and zig-zagging the speedy version of me is likely to end up making. In fact, it is probable that the more considered version of me will get around the course faster, be more relaxed and definitely achieve a better score.
The slow and fast of accountancy
How does this translate into the business world for us accountants? By all means, speed up your access to the data that you and your leadership need to make decisions. Speed up your budget processes, and factor in that information has a very short shelf-life in a chaotic world. We can do this with the right technology, and a bonus is that making data gathering and analysis faster frees up your people to do their real jobs: executing the strategy once the decisions have been made.
But the decisions themselves don’t need to be sped up, necessarily. In fact, there is a train of thought – based on Agile principles – that decisions should be made as late as responsibly possible. The point at which decisions ideally should get made is early enough for you to still be able to execute – so will depend on your organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness – but late enough to consider all the pertinent information and get feedback from the right stakeholders.
All decisions are not created equal
It’s worth pointing out that all decisions, like all golf strokes, are not created equal. So, there is no blanket recommendation for how long a decision should take. Routine decisions, just like golf on a course you are familiar with, in optimal conditions, and on a day you are playing smoothly, can be taken at the last minute. You’ve hit this golf stroke a thousand times before and the outcome though never a sure thing is relatively predictable, just like your organisation has executed similar routine decisions many times before and the delivery will be predictable and relatively certain.
New and atypical decisions, like unfamiliar golf courses on a blustery day, also do better if they aren’t rushed. In the same way that you might need to test out a few golf clubs with a few practice swings before deciding on your approach to that specific setup, a novel decision will need more research, experimentation and learning before making the call.
Crisis decisions are a different matter altogether though. Here, speed is of the essence and can impact whether you survive the crisis or not. I guess the golf version of this would be if a sudden weather event made it dangerous to continue, you wouldn’t hesitate to pivot your game’s strategy and move straight to the 19th hole.
Always have a plan
Deciding at the last responsible moment doesn’t mean not having a plan at all. You should always have working scenarios to fall back on so you never extend the decision beyond the point of no return when you can no longer execute on it and you miss out on the resulting opportunities. To continue the golfing analogy, a stray tee shot into the trees offers a default chip out back to the fairway (the working scenario) however there may be a shot through the trees as an option, higher risk but is the risk worth the reward? That is not known until you get to your ball and weigh up the options.
A more measured, considered approach to the actual decision-making process can result in better decisions and also prevent decision fatigue and pivoting so often that your organisation is, like Alice and the Red Queen, constantly running to stand still. Imagine arriving at your tee out of breath and in high energy, grabbing your club and swiping at your ball. The business equivalent of doing this all day every day is inevitably going to result in fatigue and the quality of your decision-making deteriorating. Likewise, imagine that instead of letting the ball land and then assessing your next shot, you run after it and swat it out of the air with a new plan. While business pivots can be helpful and very necessary, pivoting too often, without giving your team a chance to execute, is a waste of time and energy and won’t move you forward either.
So, decide for yourself what real-time means in practice, how soon ASAP really is, and what the appropriate speed for each type of decision is. Take a beat, let the latest information you have percolate, and ensure your organisation is set up to execute well once the decision has been made.
P.S. There are no guarantees this will improve your golf handicap, though!
As published AccountingWeb - March 2023