What we need to make great decisions

Picture yourself aboard a plane, but the pilots, for some unforeseen reason, are unable to drive it. Even with access to the manual that explains each detail of operating the aircraft, you would be hard-pressed to be able to land it successfully. Your working memory needs very fast access to information in order to make the right call.

This is a compelling analogy for what I believe is at the core of enabling a company to make great decisions: everyone should have working memory access to the same information that the management team has.

If I were to summarise what our leadership team knows at SEOmonitor, it would come to four themes:

  1. Visibility into every project — what each department and team is working on right now.
  2. Deep customer knowledge — why certain groups of users are more valuable than others.
  3. Very good understanding of the product — the ability to clearly articulate its value proposition and come up from memory with simple examples that illustrate it.
  4. Strong knowledge of the competition.

Every productive company out there has figured out a way of enabling these four, but of all the ceremonies, the one that I found to have the biggest impact is the week-long company retreat.

We organized our own retreat 2 months ago, and each day was focused on one of these areas. On the last day, I hosted a workshop on our competitive landscape, and instead of delivering a lecture about where we’re positioned, I split the team into parties of two and decided as a group which competitors to trial.

After 2 and a half hours of research, each group presented their learnings to the whole company. The direct experience gave everyone a newfound purpose and a mission around the product and made them feel a lot more confident in talking with customers.

The lesson: if you want great decisions, don’t just tell employees information. Make them experience it. Have teams do real research and present findings. People remember – and act on – what they discover for themselves.