The old adage that the customer is always right is true, of course, but what the customer is right about, and what they need, changes and evolves constantly. For any business, what the customer wants and needs is the target to hit, but it’s a moving target, and because it is always in motion – and because it moves quickly – indecisive organizations often miss the chance to hit it. But what drives indecision? What keeps companies stuck in place while their customers move on?
In many cases, it is a kind of analytical paralysis or fear of failure. In business, we spend so much time thinking about the competition, about our capabilities versus theirs and about our relative constraints, that we forget about our biggest threat: time.
Time Is Our Greatest Blocker
In all ventures, we have limited time. It’s simply a fact of life, whether you’re a small business owner, a CEO or the President of the United States. Our time is precious, and we have to use it wisely. For that reason, it is important for leaders, in any field, to value action and progress over perfection.
While perfection is a laudable ideal to pursue, the world – and especially the business world – is messy and fast moving. With time as the limiting resource, it’s always a balance between taking action and assessing further but you only make progress when you execute.
Often, in today’s data-driven climate, we find ourselves burdened by so much information. Similarly, we frequently think we need more information than we actually do. When there are important decisions to make, I’ve found that asking a few key questions brings a lot of clarity. Perhaps the most important is “will we know more tomorrow than we know right now?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then it’s probably time to go ahead and make that decision. Others include “how much is it costing us to delay this decision?” and “can we reverse our decision quickly if needed?”
There was a situation I remember well when my team and I were faced with making what felt like a high-stakes decision. We asked these questions and realized that we weren’t going to get more or better information in the short term, that we could reverse course if needed and that every day we didn’t take action was costing us hundreds of thousands of missed opportunities. The answer became obvious, and we made the call.
What Does a Bias to Action Look Like?
The quality of consistently making timely, effective decisions can be referred to as a bias to action. All organizations should have a healthy dose of impatience with progress. When a team or an individual possesses a strong bias to action, they move quickly and make better decisions because they can act and react quickly. Their organizational cadence is high, so mistakes can be minimized, and they keep their competitive advantage by simply moving faster. When you look at the history of how great companies moved from startup to market leader, it was never done through one big event. It was a consistent but very fast series of actions or launches that led to their success.
Overcoming that hesitance to make decisions is a cultural change for any business, and it has to be centered on the customer. That’s where the urgency comes from. The customer is out there in the real world, making decisions all the time, and one of those decisions could be to go with a competitor that better meets their needs.
Many companies talk about putting the customer first, but don’t make hearing from customers part of their DNA. As an example, my team launched a new product, and we were very proud of what we built. We did a series of customer interviews to showcase our new launch. What we heard was, “your new product is really good, and we love your brand, but it takes you so long to launch new features that we’re thinking about other companies, because we’re worried you will be outdated soon.” When you hear feedback like this from customers, it clarifies what is really important to them, and the team used this as a motivator to make moving fast part of our DNA.
Decisiveness vs. Recklessness
It’s important to note that there is a difference between demonstrating a bias to action by moving quickly to serve your customers and making reckless decisions. A bias to action is not just about acting quickly – it’s about thinking and evaluating quickly as well. Anyone can just make a decision, but it takes a strong decision maker to understand the ramifications of a particular choice and make it with confidence.
A bias to action is not about haste; it’s about achieving the best outcomes for your organization and your customers by getting the facts, analyzing them and making your move, rather than waiting around for additional facts that you don’t actually need to move forward.
Spending Our Time Wisely
At the end of every year, it’s natural for us look back at our calendars and try to determine whether we used that time well. We should look at our normal customer, financial and team metrics or milestones of course, but we can also ask some specific questions to determine if our organization is demonstrating a strong bias to action: Have we increased our organizational cadence? Have we made some decisions we had to reverse because we didn’t get it right the first time but then adjusted and achieved success? Did we empower and celebrate teams for getting it right over time despite ups and downs? The answers to these questions will help us determine if we spent our time wisely.
Ultimately, a strong bias to action is about removing barriers between a business and its goals, and we overcome our greatest barrier – time – by moving quickly on behalf of our customers and going where their needs lead us. When we act decisively with our customers’ best interests in mind, it’s hard to go wrong.
Ed Jay is the President at Newfold Digital.