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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #54

How will you respond when your boss asks you, "And then what?"

While facilitating a strategic planning session for a senior executive group last week, the topic of decision-making capability within managers at lower levels in the organization came up. Although the prevailing thought was that many front-line and middle managers were reasonably good at this important task, it was also suggested that many managers at this level had difficulty looking beyond the immediate; beyond the surface; beyond the peripheral. In essence, these managers were seen as seeking the easiest solution and, when that solution was determined, would then find it hard to look beyond their initial conclusion.

One of the executives stated that she addresses these situations, when they occur, by asking the individual, "And then what?" She keeps asking this question until all of the second-order (and probably third-order) implications are out in the open and taken into consideration.

Because I'm always curious about how someone ends up with a powerful skill like this, I asked the executive how she learned this technique. Did she come by it naturally? Or was it something she learned? While I suspect she's naturally gifted at second-order questioning, she gave the credit to a mentor who, earlier in her life, had used a similar technique to help her make better decisions.

If you've struggled with second-order thinking, you're not alone. Our minds are programmed to seek the easiest solution and first-order thinking is fast and, well ... easy. Unfortunately, this type of thinking only solves the immediate problem without considering the consequences. The propensity toward first-order thinking is more pronounced when an individual is inexperienced in a role, under stress or experiencing strong emotions, isolated from other points of view, or blinded by deep-rooted psychological biases.

It's an uncomfortable reality that most unintended consequences are just unanticipated consequences!

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), proactively prepare yourself for when the inevitable "And then what?" question comes your way. The three HVAs listed below are powerful techniques to help you become a second-order thinker:

  • Question Everything: Don't stop once you reach your first conclusion or determine the first solution. Keep asking yourself, "What is likely to happen then?" or "What is the range of likely future outcomes from this decision?" Continue this line of questioning until you've identified—at least to the best of your ability—all potential outcomes.
  • Perform a Litmus Test: When you reach the point when you simply don't know what other outcomes are possible, it's time to consult with other people who might be impacted to get fresh new perspectives and potential solutions. While this step seems simple enough, it's essential that you also establish the credibility of any information you use when making a decision (where's the evidence and who's the source?).
  • Stop Thinking Short-Term: Second-order thinking helps you look past immediate solutions and consider the long-term impact. When someone makes a change—even a single change—within a complex system, there is likely to be unintended consequences. If you don't anticipate unintended consequences, or take into consideration who might be impacted by your decision, you can't expect to achieve your desired outcome.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Experience is what you got when you didn't get what you wanted."

— Howard Marks —