Yakkity Yak – Less Talk, More Action

Have you ever sat in a business meeting that couldn’t get to a decision and just talked around the point interminably so that you wished you were someplace else? Want less talk, more action?

less talk, more action

When Eliza Doolittle sang those immortal words in the show My Fair Lady: “Words, words, words. I’m so sick of words. I get words all day through first from him now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?she could have been echoing the sentiments I have heard some employees and members of management teams express about the conduct of their workplace and the failure of their leaders to turn words into actions. It is unfortunately an unavoidable attribute of larger organisations that with increasing levels of supervision and management the lead time between a problem or idea emerging and the action to address it becomes longer. 

(Image: Amazon.com)                                                                                    

In fact in some organisations I have seen, increasing levels of management create greater risk aversion followed by increasing caution in decision-making, giving way to procrastination and eventually complete inaction.

Why do we suffer those endless meetings?

Everybody in business or government encounters from time to time those endless forums where issues and problems are kicked around through interminable meetings, debates, referrals to committees or working parties not to mention the reams of reports, discussion papers, research tomes and dissertations which all contribute to the talking but do little to advance real action.

Pitfalls for meeting convenors are prevalent and include:

  • Allowing too much administrative minutia on the agenda in place of more urgent matters.
  • Accepting poorly framed reports that consume meeting time only to be deferred .
  • Poorly chaired meetings that squander precious time on irrelevant discussion.
  • Poor preparation by meeting participants who have not read the briefing papers.
  • Allowing matters that have already been decided to be repeatedly raked over.
  • Seeking consensus when it is obvious that views are irreconcilably diverse.


(Image: lebhr.com)

A little more discipline in both chairing and participating in meetings can remedy these situations.

How much consultation and deliberation is too much?

Another roadblock to moving on from talking to acting is the overemphasis often placed on stakeholder consultation. Obviously good practice in business and government requires close understanding of the needs of customers, clients and those affected by decision outcomes. However there comes a time when more consultation will not add any further value to the decision process.

  • Where do we draw the line at stakeholder engagement?
  • When is more consultation too much?
  • When should leaders be trusted to just get on with the job?
  • When can we accept that not all situations can be win-win for everyone involved and continuing to pursue that objective may prevent any solution being activated.

A recent article by Steve Toback on the Fox Business website agrees. Steve says:

Whether they’re running small businesses, big corporations, or entire nations, the one thing leaders need to do effectively is make that single chain of events happen. Set goals, make decisions, take action and get results. That’s what makes things happen. That’s what moves us forward.”

Don’t just do something, stand there!

I have a colleague who when faced with managers who demonstrate indecision uses the delightful phrase “don’t just do something – stand there!”. His intent of course is to prompt them to do the very opposite.

The worst scenario an organisation can face is when its leadership encounters a critical challenge and is frozen with indecision – like a rabbit in the headlights. So many opportunities are lost and indeed damage caused while management dithers over relatively inconsequential matters. The most lasting damage is often to the reputation of the manager who is found wanting in those situations. 

(Image: goodreads.com)

Managing risk does not mean taking no risk at all, nor does it mean accepting paralysis by analysis. It means identifying risk elements, their causes, likelihood and consequences and then deciding how best to proceed in the light of these considerations.

Note the emphasis is on proceeding, not standing still or avoiding making a decision for fear of failing. In these cases choosing to do nothing is often choosing to fail.

What can managers do to reduce the talking and increase the action?

  • Appoint trusted delegates who can and will actually exercise the delegation effectively.
  • Empower them to do so.
  • Provide clear and unambiguous policy and guidelines for decision makers to follow.
  • Require quality  information to be available promptly and reliably on which to base decisions.
  • Define the limits of consultation and deliberations leading up to decision making.lotsofclocks2
  • Control the agendas and conduct of meetings to give priority to the most important matters.

 In short, it is in organisational leadership’s own hands to provide the framework to enable the breakthough from terminal talking to audacious action.

You don’t need more time – you need to decide.” – Seth Godin 


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