Why does it take a crisis to cut through the crap of decision making? Quote, unquote!

It’s a great question – why does it take a crisis to cut through the crap of decision making? Why until that crisis happens are people generally so resistant, so based in the current, that decision making around transformation takes an age?

In a recent conversation with a government agency CIO, he suggested that off the back of a crisis, which was the impact of a natural disaster, decisions unmade over a period of 2 years, were made within 3 days. 2 years of effort resolved in 3 days…but it took a real crisis for the decision making team to be motivated to act. Why?

There’s a psychology at play here [note: I am not a psychologist!]. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says that; when people feel safe and secure, when they have stability in their lives; and when they have a sense of belonging, there is a lowering of motivation to move up the needs pyramid. Saying no is safe; nothing has to change. Saying yes introduces options that need to be considered which may mean that any of these needs are endangered, even for a short period of time.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The issue is, that change and transformation happens at the tip of this needs pyramid; when creativity, problem solving, spontaneity, and acceptance of facts are motivators. This could be boiled down to motivation to remove personal or organisational pain. How do you get people from Safety, and Love and Belonging to Self-Actualisation in a time frame that supports change? How do you get people to say yes?

Disaster creates a situation where everything has to change almost instantly. When your business is also involved in the response to the disaster, and cannot access the resources it needs due to slow decision making in the past which may have impacted positively impacted your ability to respond today, the heightened need accelerates people into Self-Actualisation and transformational decisions get made. The reason that people act in such a motivated way in terms of emergency, is to restore the feeling of safety; to reduce their need.

We shouldn’t need disasters to stimulate positive and necessary change. There has to be another way that we can engender that same sense of urgency.

Digital Disruption

There is a perspective which suggests that there is chronic disaster happening right in-front of us today; digital disruption is the cause. This disaster causes business to fail on a daily basis; either because they are no longer relevant, their business cannot support itself, its competition has fully eaten its lunch, or it was so dramatically impacted by a start-up that its customers who were looking for a new experience jumped to a new provider. This disaster is caused by the very same inputs as the natural disaster, but they happen in slow motion over a significantly longer period of time and therefore go unnoticed.

The time that it is hardest to consider changing is when things are going well, and yet that is exactly the time that change should be taking place.

I put that in quotes as I am sure someone said it first. The last time I heard it was at a recent innovation seminar run by Phil McKinney. It’s absolutely true. Back to the hierarchy of needs. There is no motivation to change when everything appears to be going well, for you individually, or for your organisation. And yet digital disruption is causing a succession of failure for organisations who are not aware that this disruption is even taking place.

The Cloud Native Journey

Start-ups today have no legacy to contend with, can be cloud native from day one and focus on putting the customer, the customer experience and the customer journey at the core of their business. They can pick and mix from a huge variety of cloud enabled services, integrate them quickly and easily using more cloud technology, to create a customer experience that delivers huge value at low cost, and eat your lunch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen if you aren’t aware of it and aren’t thinking today how to mitigate against it.

Taking 2 years to discuss how to transform simply isn’t an option. That’s decision paralysis and that’s a Process Crime! So building the motivation to act as if you are in a disaster situation, and implement change has become a necessity right now. Under those conditions, the government CIO did indeed achieve the immediate decision making he was after. That change enabled the organisation to respond to the crisis. It also made much of the vision based on a response to the stagnation null and void and that drove a period of creativity which fostered new approaches to take advantage of the change.

Get out of your comfort zone

Then things began to go back to normal. Comfort sets in; this is the new normal. Despite the fact that the rapid change was accepted so readily based on the need to support the disaster response, the opportunity to use that to continue to drive hard has been lost. Culture is often the root cause of such empathy.

Continuous Improvement is a process whereby this comfort reset can be prevented. Choosing to seek out opportunities for betterment and make actionable decisions which deliver measurable results is often hard. The information needed to support this is often elusive, trapped inside specialist systems, not easily accessible or understood by decision makers. Finding ways to remove this knowledge barrier are key to enabling decision makers to have the information they need to make the correct decisions.

The Information Supply Chain perspective of an organisation provides such an opportunity. By understanding how information flows in support of business outcomes, supported by Systems and People, and through the use of plain language describes the actions that are taken against this information, a view of the organisation based on the value of the information assets provides the momentum to deliver continuous improvement, preventing the slip into comfort.

It takes effort and some level of bravery to get to the point that you are able to keep people out of their comfort zone; but today, it is more important than it has ever been.