Have you heard of the Heath brothers? No, they are not a singing group or a new comedy duo. They are two brothers, one a businessman and the other a college professor, living on opposite coasts who collaborate on great business books. Decisive, their book on decision making, holds insights for the world of remote work.
As a practitioner, I’ll skip over the theory a bit and take you right to some practices you can apply to your remote work scenario.
Move the Spotlight
An interesting text exchange recently occurred between a young adventurer and a seasoned traveler. The young adventurer, with tickets in hand to go hiking in Lombok, Indonesia, panicked when she learned an earthquake had killed many people on the island. She texted this message: The island I was going to go to on Tuesday just had 2 earthquakes. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.
The seasoned traveler could have switched to mother mode and told her, No way do you need to go to an island that just experienced an earthquake—what are you thinking?
Instead, she texted these carefully chosen questions to do a little mentoring on decision making: Will it be chaotic where you are going? Are they having aftershocks? How easy would it be to change destinations?
The young adventurer changed her ticket to a different Indonesian island and spent the last week of summer vacation hiking and doing yoga on Bali.
This method of decision making, asking a question to reveal more options, avoids the problem of narrow framing that can result from either/or thinking. Questions move the spotlight and widen your options.
The great thing about the future of work is that you can reality test your options. The Heath brothers call this ooching. I’m not sure that ooching is a real word, but it works. Rather than jumping all in as you distribute your workforce, it is easy to experiment. Make it possible for your employees to work from home part of the week. Bring in a remote worker for a special project. It could be that a retired financial analyst might be the best choice to do your accounting at year end. Or a student of graphic design can work just the right number of hours to get your brochures completed at a reasonable cost. These options allow you to determine which pieces of remote work are best for your business or association.
Chip and Dan Heath outline this method of decision making that comes from Suzy Welch’s book. Rather than being directive in decision making, ask these three questions:
- How will we feel about this 10 minutes from now?
- How will we feel about this 10 months from now?
- How will we feel about this 10 years from now?
This practical tool allows you to overcome short-term emotions that may arise when a decision needs to be made. You can attain distance to make the best choice. And using questions in decision making is a leadership training tool that empowers your team.
Two Good Questions
- What would I tell my best friend?
- What would our successors do?
Both of these questions allow you to get a new perspective on your project or problem. Research has shown that when you focus on yourself, you approach problems with a great deal of complexity. When you place the focus on others (your best friend, your successors), it shifts your thinking. You can view the situation with more clarity.
What does that have to do with remote work? You can become attached to what has brought you success in the past. You may have personal preferences related to brick and mortar offices. Your memories of success are bound together with workplaces that allowed proximity. However, as you look at the future of work, it is good to attain distance with questions such as these to overcome the emotion related to your own work history that you may not even be aware of.
If you watch enough detective shows, you’re familiar with post-mortems. As the forensics team examines the crime, they pick apart every detail of the crime scene, all the way to the stomach contents of the corpse. Yikes. Decisive introduces the work of psychologist Gary Klein who devised a method for testing decisions called a pre-mortem. This practice involves imagining the “death” of a project before the project happens. The question asked is, What caused it? All involved in the decision making will submit reasons for failure. The technique surfaces possible threats to success. By preparing to be wrong, a team can get it right.
Have some fun with this! As you prepare for your virtual video call, choose a black background or attach a bundle of black balloons to your desk. Explain the activity well so that your team members learn how to do this kind of thinking on their own.
It is good to prepare for failure. However, anticipating success can be another way to look at your processes. Again, have some fun with this one. Send a party invitation to the meeting. Tell your team that the project has been a wild success and you want to celebrate. When the session convenes, get your team to talk about it as if the victory has already happened. Talk about what may have occurred along the way. Include difficulties that were overcome. These pre-parade conversations allow your team to be ready for obstacles along the way.
When you may already know the decision you want to make, is it worth all this trouble to include others in the decision making? Yes! Working through these processes allows buy-in. It yields more options. People feel heard. And it reveals talents you might otherwise miss. Managing means directing others and developing others. A team of strong decision-makers, whether in the same office or scattered around the world, benefits business all around.
Choiceology with Dan Heath (Charles Schwab)
Decisive, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (2013)