The big news this week, cluttering my Facebook and Twitter feeds from Microsoft former colleagues, has been the latest Microsoft reboot. The chief exec, Steve Ballmer announced its latest reorganisation with the objectives of being “Nimble, Communicative, Collaborative, Decisive, and Motivated”. I guess you couldn’t ask for a more explicit catalogue of self-confessed weaknesses Microsoft is grappling with (as well as an obvious collection of a buzzword output from a flip-chart laden executive offsite).

The one that stuck me was “Decisive”. The side effect of megalithic growth for most companies is an ossifying of the decision making processes. Decisions are hamstrung by committees, complex arrays of stakeholders, matrix management and a host of other corporate disfunctions. The very essence of this blog underscores the notion that the most important thing that an executive (or anyone exercising a degree of leadership and management) does is make decisions. Good decisions. When you can’t do that, when you can’t weigh the upside opportunity against the downside risk, then you have a leadership/management crisis.

A major problem in decision making is confusion types of decision making (just the way people confuse types of “failure”). A common confusion is mistaking ‘decisive action’ (good) with ‘decisive analysis’ (bad).  Weak executives just think that the ‘decisive’ thing is the key.  It goes along with confidence, swagger, machismo, etc. that predominates many corporations (certainly did at Microsoft).

Decisive Action is good.  Even when you know that your Analysis might be wrong.  You still have to plot a course, move ahead, and take the risk.  ‘Action’ is a controllable.  But, Analysis of any suitably complex situation is always going to be inconclusive or imperfect.  To feign otherwise is either deception or bravado.  Getting the understanding 100% right is not controllable.  Yes, one can be 100% right in toting up how many widgets have been sold (though with complex product lines and convoluted systems, even that can be a challenge).  But, understanding the market (which is the most important thing to analyse) is far too complex for any definitive conclusion. But such pressure to be as decisive in strategic analysis as strategic execution leads to a debilitating executive fundamentalism that is often more dangerous than no analysis at all.

Leaders act decisively; Managers analyse open-mindedly.