Media mavens and human resource professionals seem to collaborate periodically to establish, the cliché of the day. For a while it was “That being said.” Before that, it was touching base, doing a deep dive, cascading, at the end of the day, and the bottom line. Now we all need to “start the conversation.”
Pick any item in the news: racial unrest, trouble in the Middle East, immigration, or public school reform. Everyone wants to “start a conversation” or “join the conversation,” but no one actually changes anything, sets a deadline for accomplishing it, defines the tactics that would make sense, or establishes who’s in charge. All this might explain why Congress has just received its all-time lowest approval ratings.
The same weak action orientation plagues businesses too. People want to do a survey, analyze data, formulate a plan—all culminating in the worst of all possible worlds: the meeting. It’s just hard on the furniture. Each scenario points to a specific problem: lack of leadership—no one making a decision about required change.
Leaders need to stop the conversation and start the action. Why?
- Conversation makes people feel better because they convince themselves they’re doing something other than just talking.
- Conversation examines alternatives to a goal no one has defined.
- Talking buys people time before anyone expects them to act.
- Finding ways to return to the status quo solves problems but never truly innovates or improves anything.
- Everyone suffers inordinately between the time the problem surfaces and someone makes a decision about what needs to change.
What’s a well-intended leader to do?
- When faced with a major decision, realize you’ll never have all available information, but you probably have enough. Remember, the goal: improvement, not perfection.
- Seek information from experts and trusted advisors, not those with conflicting agendas. Everyone has an opinion, but heed advice only from those who honestly want your success.
- Frame decisions in one sentence so you hear only relevant answers.
- Avoid inferences and judgments. Ask for and express facts.
- Steer away from activities and tactics, and toward outcomes and results.
A cliché of past decades taught us that “talk’s cheap.” It isn’t. It costs dearly in lost hours, opportunities, and power. Talking about talking costs even more. The time has come for tough decisions and actions that bring results.