A Good Meeting Needs a Clear Decision-Making Process

The tension in the room was rising. The group had been at it for hours. In fact, this same team of 12 had been through essentially the same discussion on three previous occasions but still couldn’t reach a decision on a critical issue: Should the organization divest their South American operation or shift to a different strategy?

They reviewed the pros and cons of both options yet again. Each side paraded their own experts, data, and recommendations. And yet they remained at an impasse.

What should a team do when it’s tasked with making a decision or recommendation but can’t reach consensus?

In our 60+ years of combined experience working with boards and senior executives at organizations ranging from Fortune 10 multinationals to German mittelstand companies, we’ve seen leaders give plenty of thought to the data and analysis needed to kick off and carry on these sorts of discussions. But they typically don’t consider how they’d like to finish them.

We’re not suggesting they should know in advance what decision will be made. But they should know how a decision will be made if people can’t agree.

In situations where everyone in the room reports to a common manager, and that person is present, there’s not much of an issue. If the team can’t decide, the boss will. But in today’s highly matrixed organizations, closure in the absence of consensus can be an enormous challenge. Team members — even an individual executive — may well have multiple reporting lines. Finding a “natural tiebreaker” — whether one person or another group — may involve decisions bumping up two or even three levels — which is an impractical solution in many cases, and one that risks casting an unfavorable light on the group.

When we ask our clients, “What’s going to happen at the end of the conversation if the decision isn’t obvious? How exactly will it be made?” the answers often include: “Let’s see how it goes,”  “We’ll figure it out,”  or the classic “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

We think that’s a bad idea. Your team shouldn’t try to make an important decision unless everybody understands what’s going to happen if its members can’t reach an agreement.

So, before a decision-making meeting starts, be crystal clear about how the decision will be made. For example, tell the group there will be 90 minutes of discussion and if there is no resolution after that time, the issue will be put to a vote. While this may seem obvious, be sure to consider how the results will be used in the room. Does the verdict rest directly on the vote, or is the vote merely advisory for the accountable executive? Most decision-making models, such as RACI, suggest that one person be accountable for making the final call, but if your organization takes a more collaborative approach, you need to clarify what a vote means. If it determines the decision, what is required? A simple majority? A two-thirds vote?  Is anyone given veto power?

Also consider what happens if the executive or team with final authority isn’t in the room. How should the issue get elevated? Will the vote be enough input? Should majority and minority viewpoints be documented? If so, how?

Once you’ve outlined a plan, share it with key stakeholders early so they can ask questions or suggest changes. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it should be clear and simple so that everyone understands the process.

Early in his career Tom Wilson, now chairman, president, and CEO of The Allstate Corporation, used to end each major meeting with a simple chart. For each significant decision there were three boxes: “Yes,” “No,” and “Defer.” Under the latter, there was space to indicate the date to which the issue would be deferred and what additional actions or data were required to move to a “Yes” or “No” at that time.  This helped drive clarity and closure and made his meetings more efficient and decisive.

Teams don’t need to get stuck spinning around a whirlpool of indecision. Meetings just need to start with everyone crystal clear on how they will end.

Bob Frisch is the managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy. He is also the co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015), the author of Who’s In The Room? (Jossey-Bass, 2012), and four Harvard Business Review articles, including “Off-Sites That Work” (June 2006).

Cary Greene is a partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy, and co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015) and the Harvard Business Review article “Leadership Summits that Work” (March 2015).  He writes frequently for



Make a Tough Decision Easier to Accept

Every leader has to make hard decisions that have consequences for their organization, their reputation, and their career. When you’re faced with a tough call, consider two things that make these decisions so difficult: uncertainty about the outcome and value complexity, the notion that any choice you make will negatively affect someone. To reduce the uncertainty in a decision, first consider the costs of not acting, and then think carefully about your options. Have you made any assumptions that are holding you back? Are there low-risk, small-scale ways to test your options? To handle value complexity, consider how you can help people understand your decision once you make it. Especially when the decision involves trade-offs that will affect others, you’ll want to be as clear as possible about your intentions.

Adapted from “How to Get People to Accept a Tough Decision,” by David Maxfield - From the Harvard Business Review.


The 7 Essential Practices of Leadership That Works

The craft of leadership is the art and science of influencing others.  The 21st century is unfolding at an unprecedented pace with exponential complexity. Mastering this craft in the new millennium demands an understanding of both enduring leadership principles and essentialhigh-impact leadership practices .

In my over 40 years of leadership study and experience at world-class global companies – including my tenure as President of Nabisco Foods, my decade as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and my experience as Chairman of Avon Products  --  I've developed an evolved leadership approach that is tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. And I've learned a lot about what practices actually work in the real world to engage employees and deliver sustainable performance. Now, I’m devoted to sharing that knowledge, and empowering leaders, by championing leadership that works in the 21st century. To that end, I’ve developed a high-impact leadership model that outlines the 7 essential leadership practices you will need to perform in today’s complex world.

The ConantLeadership Flywheel:

The key to Leadership That Works is found in the 7 connected practice areas of the ConantLeadership Flywheel. Each pillar in the flywheel is anchored in trust, which is the foundational element of elite performance; when they are developed in harmony — they are a powerful, self-reinforcing tool for transforming individuals and organizations with everlasting momentum. I'll briefly develop each of these 7 essential leadership practices below. 

Inspire Trust

Earn the confidence of all stakeholders.

Trust  is the foundation upon which all other leadership behaviors depend. Your actions must be anchored in trust or the flywheel ceases to function properly and the momentum comes to a halt. As you work to develop your craft — you must continually inspire trust at every step along the way. You really have no choice.

To Inspire Trust:

  • Honor all stakeholders.
  • Declare yourself and do what you say you are going to do.
  • Develop and display character and competence – consistently.
  • Uphold high ethical standards.
  • Model the behavior you expect from others.
  • Acknowledge mistakes.
  • Consistently meet performance expectations.

1. Clarify Higher Purpose

Craft an inspiring ‘calling’ that resonates with all stakeholders and delivers economic and social value.

A higher purpose guides your work and provides a reservoir of vitality that invigorates the effort. This practice area must be attended to first – both at the individual and organizational level. An inspiring calling will govern your leadership, tether the work to shared meaning, and ensure you continue on the right path in the face of adversity.

To Clarify Higher Purpose:

  • Craft an aspirational calling that resonates with all stakeholders and delivers economic and social value.
  • Champion the higher purpose with intentionality, passion, persistence, and humility.
  • Ensure the higher purpose governs the direction of the organization.

2. Create Direction

Develop a competitively advantaged direction for advancing the agenda.

To advance the agenda and realize the Higher Purpose – you must collaboratively develop a clear and compelling plan for achieving agreed upon goals. This practice area is essential for building a clear-eyed approach that unmistakably points you in the right direction.

To Create Direction:

  • Confront the brutal facts facing you or your organization, question assumptions, challenge paradigms.
  • Build an aspirational but achievable plan for advancing the agenda while honoring all stakeholders.
  • Dispel ambiguity – make sure the expectations of the plan are clear to all.

3. Drive Alignment

Organize and leverage all resources to advance the agenda in a quality way.

Once you have clarity of Purpose and Direction you must organize all the resources at your disposal to bring the planned agenda to fruition. This practice area is crucial in developing a system that enables the right work to be done with speed and focus – and ensures you are properly positioned for success.

To Drive Alignment:

  • Organize resources (people, finances, time) to deliver the plan, task, or goal.
  • Establish a self-sustaining process that enables everybody to work towards the plan with agility.
  • Confirm all stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities.

4. Build Vitality

Motivate all to be fully engaged in advancing the direction in a way that honors all stakeholders.

It is unrealistic to expect extraordinary effort and performance without creating an environment in which people feel extraordinarily valued. This practice area requires you to give people the energy to do their best work while also challenging them to do better. Leaders must work to engage all stakeholders and to create a high-energy culture.

To Build Vitality:

  • Energize all to be actively engaged in delivering the desired performance.
  • Celebrate achievements and acknowledge shortcomings.
  • Challenge all to do better through swift and constructive feedback.

5. Execute with Excellence

Assure the direction is executed with excellence — course-correcting as needed.

All the strategic planning and good intentions you can muster do not amount to leadership that works. In the real world, strong execution is foundational and mandatory to leadership success. This practice area demands that plans are vigorously attended to, that results are tracked and measured, and that progress is not waylaid by obstacles.

To Execute with Excellence

  • Implement plans with disciplined task management.
  • Act decisively.
  • Measure progress and adapt as needed.

6. Produce Extraordinary Results

Meet or exceed performance expectations.

A plan can be executed to the letter and still not produce the agreed upon outcome. But leadership is about getting things done. You must be unmistakably focused on delivering the desired results in a quality way. This practice area pushes leaders to be ever-mindful of their commitment to performance — and to evaluate every effort with a view towards meeting or exceeding expectations.

To Produce Extraordinary Results

  • Deliver.
  • Embrace a results-oriented mindset
  • Attend wisely to the near-term and the long-term.

As you become more proficient in the practice areas of the flywheel, I encourage you to explore your unique leadership perspective. Use this resource as a starting point that sparks a journey of self- discovery. Ultimately, you can use these principles to inspire the creation of your own robust leadership model that is rooted in your personal experience and point of view.


How Great Companies Think Differently

It’s time that beliefs and theories about business catch up with the way great companies operate and how they see their role in the world today. Traditionally, economists and financiers have argued that the sole purpose of business is to make money—the more the better. That conveniently narrow image, deeply embedded in the American capitalist system, molds the actions of most corporations, constraining them to focus on maximizing short-term profits and delivering returns to shareholders. Their decisions are expressed in financial terms.

I say convenient because this lopsided logic forces companies to blank out the fact that they command enormous resources that influence the world for better or worse and that their strategies shape the lives of the employees, partners, and consumers on whom they depend. Above all, the traditional view of business doesn’t capture the way great companies think their way to success. Those firms believe that business is an intrinsic part of society, and they acknowledge that, like family, government, and religion, it has been one of society’s pillars since the dawn of the industrial era. Great companies work to make money, of course, but in their choices of how to do so, they think about building enduring institutions. They invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society.

In this article, I turn the spotlight on this very different logic—a social or institutional logic—which lies behind the practices of many widely admired, high-performing, and enduring companies. In those firms, society and people are not afterthoughts or inputs to be used and discarded but are core to their purpose. My continuing field research on admired and financially successful companies in more than 20 countries on four continents is the basis for my thinking about the role of institutional logic in business.

Institutional logic holds that companies are more than instruments for generating money; they are also vehicles for accomplishing societal purposes and for providing meaningful livelihoods for those who work in them. According to this school of thought, the value that a company creates should be measured not just in terms of short-term profits or paychecks but also in terms of how it sustains the conditions that allow it to flourish over time. These corporate leaders deliver more than just financial returns; they also build enduring institutions.

Rather than viewing organizational processes as ways of extracting more economic value, great companies create frameworks that use societal value and human values as decision-making criteria. They believe that corporations have a purpose and meet stakeholders’ needs in many ways: by producing goods and services that improve the lives of users; by providing jobs and enhancing workers’ quality of life; by developing a strong network of suppliers and business partners; and by ensuring financial viability, which provides resources for improvements, innovations, and returns to investors.

In developing an institutional perspective, corporate leaders internalize what economists have usually regarded as externalities and define a firm around its purpose and values. They undertake actions that produce societal value—whether or not those actions are tied to the core functions of making and selling goods and services. Whereas the aim of financial logic is to maximize the returns on capital, be it shareholder or owner value, the thrust of institutional logic is to balance public interest with financial returns.

Institutional logic should be aligned with economic logic but need not be subordinate to it. For example, all companies require capital to carry out business activities and sustain themselves. However, at great companies profit is not the sole end; rather, it is a way of ensuring that returns will continue. The institutional view of the firm is thus no more idealized than is the profit-maximizing view. Well-­established practices, such as R&D and marketing, cannot be tied to profits in the short or long runs, yet analysts applaud them. If companies are to serve a purpose beyond their business portfolios, CEOs must expand their investments to include employee empowerment, emotional engagement, values-based leadership, and related societal contributions.

Business history provides numerous examples of industrialists who developed enduring corporations that also created social institutions. The Houghton family established Corning Glass and the town of Corning, New York, for instance. The Tata family established one of India’s leading conglomerates and the steel city of Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. That style of corporate responsibility for society fell out of fashion as economic logic and shareholder capitalism came to dominate assumptions about business and corporations became detached from particular places. In today’s global world, however, companies must think differently.

BY Rosabeth Moss Kanter


Future Work Skills 2020

This report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies
key work skills needed in the next 10 years. It does not consider what will be the jobs of
the future. Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labor requirements.
Consistently over the years, however, it has been shown that such predictions
are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong. Rather than
focusing on future jobs, this report looks at future work skills—proficiencies and abilities
required across different jobs and work settings.


Where are your 'Ready-Now' Leaders?

Four steps your organisation can take to avert a frontline leadership crisis.

DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast found that only 18 percent of HR professionals rate their leadership bench strength as strong or very strong. The lack of leaders who are ready for a frontline role is a particular problem for organizations. Filling frontline leader positions is tough because of both how difficult the transition can be for a first time leader and the sheer number of frontline leaders that organizations need. This drives a number of promotions into frontline leader roles of individuals who are just not yet equipped with the leadership skills they need to be effective.


How Anxiety Can Lead Your Decisions Astray

  • Category EQ

By Francesca Gino. First publised in HBR on 29 October 2013.

High-stakes decisions — which can range from starting a business to consummating a joint venture to hiring or firing someone — have something in common: they involve high levels of uncertainty. When so much is unknown or unknowable, trying to decide what the right course of action might be triggers anxiety. In response, many of us seek the counsel of others to help us make these weighty decisions.