How A Players Make Decisions

Summary: A Players

1. Learn at WARP speed

2. Analyze the heck out of everything

3. Connect the dots better than others

4. Are decisive (but sometimes hip shoot)

5. Are fanatical about executing the decision

6. Have a secret weapon – they are highly, highly resourceful!

In hundreds of thousands of oral case studies, we at Topgrading, Inc., routinely ask candidates for both successes and failures in each of their jobs, so we have heard over a million explanations of executive decision making:  We heard about the challenges they faced as they entered each job, how they made decisions, and what the outcomes were.

Here’s what most A Players do, most of the time, to make good decisions:

1. A Players learn at WARP speed. A Players are bursting with intellectual curiosity. When a problem or opportunity crosses their path, they are like a shark that smells blood. They immediately learn whatever they can, as fast as they can, by tapping resources inside the company and outside the company (vendors, former associates, Google, etc.).  A Players are eager to learn and passionately do the best they can to learn enough to make the right decision. If they don’t learn enough a bad decision can result, and if they don’t allocate the time to learn far more than was necessary, a great opportunity might be lost. It’s not easy figuring out how much to learn about an issue, or how to best learn. But A Players are A Players because they do figure it out!

2. A Players analyze, analyze, analyze. A Players are always analyzing the heck out of issues — every issue, from global economics to company strategy to the best summer program for their kids, to how to organize the Christmas party. It’s in their genes to analyze. They frequently perform instant analysis, using their experience to cite a few pluses and minuses, and then make a quick decision. For new, complex issues, they generally sit down with the yellow tablet (old school — now it’s Excel) to list the pluses and minuses. Some get really sophisticated, throwing in weighting systems and probability estimates.  A Players are A Players in part because they accurately judge how much analysis is enough – too little analysis can lead to a poor decision and so-called analysis paralysis can result in a missed opportunity.

A Players frequently bounce their analyses off their team and trusted advisors, but that does not mean it’s a tea-sipping, slow-moving process. It’s energized. But it can also be very, very, very thorough. I recall meeting with Goldman Sachs executives the week of the 4th of July, and they all were looking forward to one of their rare four-day vacations. A couple of weeks later I was back and inquired about their holiday, and the team had decided to cancel vacations and work. They were competing for an investment banking deal and their analysis resulted in a proposal with “30 moving parts,” meaning they would be buying and selling currencies and sophisticated investments all over the world.  They just wanted a few more days to analyze, analyze, analyze a little more to maybe figure out how to make the customer some more money.  Why? They were competing against all the major investment bankers and the most brilliant analysis would no doubt make the most money for the customer. Did that further analysis produce new insights? Yes. The team spotted a couple more ways to make their customer money by having “35 moving parts rather than 30.”  And yes, Goldman got the deal.

In short, A Players figure out when a quick analysis is sufficient to make a decision and when a slower, very thorough analysis is best.

3. A Players connect the dots. After immersing themselves in a learning mode and getting others to help them analyze the issue from different angles, A Players are frequently the ones to draw brilliant inferences from the data; they “connect the dots.” They are not ready to make the decision until they have figured out the implications of various decisions. “Our analysis produced a, b, c, and d and considering a and d together, x results and that is the super opportunity.”  In the Goldman Sachs example above, the weekend analysis produced a more sophisticated model that the customer chose.  Stated differently, the learning and analysis steps were so thorough that Goldman connected more dots than their competitors and that made the difference between winning and losing the deal.

4. A Players are decisive, sometimes too much so.  Jack Welch was in a league by himself at making decisions. He transformed GE from heavy manufacturing to light manufacturing to service, to financial, to global. He was not inclined to hire a consultancy to create GE strategy — he did it himself, and guess who the major decision maker was all those successful years? Right  — Jack. And when he made a bad decision, as in the Kidder Peabody acquisition, he manned up and took the heat himself.

If A Players rarely suffer from analysis paralysis, many do make decisions prematurely, qualifying them as hip-shooters. That bias to act drives A Players nuts when some members of the team keep on thinking of reasons to remain in Step #1, or Step #2, etc. “We’re missing another season if we don’t act now!” the A Player exclaims, “and I’d rather make a mistake and risk a $10 million loss than miss a $100 million opportunity.” Hey, if the boss is willing to take the heat, let’s move without all the learning, analyzing, etc., that we might later learn that we should have done.

A major caution to A Players: Realize that your impatience, your bias for action, and your powerful personality can result in regrettable decisions because you cut corners on your decision-making approach, and you intimidate people into going along with you.

5. After making great decisions, A Players prove they were right by executing them with fanatic determination. Larry Bossidy, in Execution, does a great job spelling out how to execute decisions. Maybe Larry overstates his case a bit when claiming strategy is easy and execution is tough. But he makes a good point: A Players are A Players because they succeed, and they succeed not just by making great decisions, but making execution of those decisions successful.

6.  A Players have a “secret weapon” – they are highly, highly resourceful.  This is why I wrote this article — to try to convey what it’s like to be in the presence of A Players as they go through the five steps. The single most important of the 50 competencies we rate following Topgrading Interviews is (drum roll, please!) resourcefulness. In interviews with A Players they nicely pat themselves on the back for finding solutions where others were daunted. That’s what they do, they snatch success out of the jaws of defeat. They love to pull off miracles. Plenty of B Players have more IQ points than A Players, but they don’t have the A Player resourcefulness.

Conclusion:  A Players make great decisions and their “secret weapon” is not just learning a lot, analyzing thoroughly, connecting the dots, being decisive, and then executing decisions.  Their secret weapon is resourcefulness.  They exude that can-do spirit.  They love to constantly figure out how to get over, around, or through barriers to success. And they exude resourcefulness when going through the steps to not only make great decisions but to drive the organization to assure that the decisions are executed so well the result is … ahhh … another success!

As you interview candidates for hire, look for evidence of resourcefulness (or lack of it) in every response to every question.  And if you want to focus on just one thing to assure you will be an A Player, focus on exuding resourcefulness all day, every day.

Published March 4, 2014

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