My favourite piece of business advice

This is a post from PRISM’s Social Army – regular briefings on topics aligned to our business or close to our hearts. Today’s entry is from Giles Thomas, PRISM’s Global COO. 

In business, we are flooded with people offering helpful advice. The business books area at airports is always one of the largest sections, full of weighty tomes promising to help you to manage better, get promoted faster, make more money, etc. etc.

Some of the advice is new, much of it is just what the last chap said (and it does mostly seem to come from men) but rebundled under some fancy new method or technique. This doesn’t mean the advice is poor; quite the opposite, much of it is very good, and to be recommended. But, as you progress through a career in management, the fads roll up into what I would just call good management technique, and they become second nature.

But one particular quote that I shall always remember, and which has a surprisingly wide application, is this: “You never learn anything new from someone who agrees with you.”

On the face of it this seems obvious, but there are many leaders in business who don’t seem to want to learn, confident in the belief that they know best and we should all be grateful for their gift. Plus, there are team members who won’t challenge (perhaps fearful of the consequences on their career) or else just want an easy life.

Unfortunately, while decision making done in this way will benefit from speed, it may well lack imagination, consideration of better options and an appreciation of risks. In short, it may not help you reach the best decision.

So, when making decisions make sure you:

  • Are clear about your choice, and why you selected it
  • Set out and invite alternative options, with all the various costs, benefits and risks attending
  • Invite support and criticism for these options. Use experts. Go beyond your usual pool of advisers
  • Listen to these arguments, challenge the presumptions but don’t disparage alternative points of view
  • Ask how other companies (especially successful ones!) might make the same decision

If, having done all this, you still prefer your own choice, then fine. But at least you’ve been through a quality evaluation process and can back it up. And, if you come to a different, better decision, then you’ve learned something as well as come up with a better solution.

So, next time everyone around the table agrees with you, perhaps you should ask yourself why. After all, two heads are better than one. But only if you use them both.

Giles Thomas 

October 28, 2017