The “higher up” the ladder a leader moves, the greater the effect of his or her decisions on the organization. In the military, we often made the statement among leadership circles; “never forget what it’s like to be a Private.” That simply meant that we as leaders needed to be keenly aware of the effect that a decision was going to have on the people at the execution level. I’ve failed many times to consider the impact of my decisions upon those who are charged with carrying them out. The result of this leadership failure can range from frustrated workers to all out mission failure. Factors that are negatively effected by the whip effect include morale, excellence, stewardship, teamwork, intended outcomes, and overall job satisfaction in staff. However, this situation can be avoided when leaders understand the whip effect.
The whip effect
The whip effect is the analogy that I use to describe the impact of a decision. The action of the bullwhip is initiated at the handle of the whip. The tip at the far end makes a loud cracking noise when it reaches its farthest point. The “cracking” sound that is heard is actually a sonic boom. The tip speed of the average bullwhip is measured at mach 1 (about 761 mph) and beyond. Imagine that the handle of the whip is the leadership team and the far tip represents the people at execution level. The effort to make a decision sometimes involves an arduous process, but at other times is quite simple. Nevertheless, the effect of the decision that is seen and felt at the execution level is always exponentially higher than that which is seen and felt in the board room. I will explain by giving a few pointers that will prevent the whip effect, which will in turn make clear the mistakes that occur and the inevitable result.
How to prevent the whip effect:
1. Consider time. Is there sufficient time for the team to plan, develop strategies, and execute? Leaders must remember that those executing your decision were likely not in the meeting when the decision was discussed. They will need time to process and understand the intent and purpose of the outcome. They will also need time to incorporate this plan into their current workload. Time is likely the most overlooked consideration. Leaders must remember that fresh ideas on our part doesn’t mean that the staff has fully worked out our old ideas!
2. Consider resources. Are the resources available to produce the outcome you desire? Resources can include funding, equipment, and staffing. Fortunately, in most cases, someone knows the answer to this question in the decision-making room. However, lack of proper resources puts people in the position of “making it happen” which will almost always lack excellence.
3. Consider competence. Do the people at the execution level have the knowledge and training to make it happen? Is there a learning curve that needs to be factored in to the time? Overlooking the competence required puts people in very frustrating situations that will inevitably stall progress and waste resources.
4. Consider current workload. Often times leaders are unaware of the current workload of subordinates. A wise leader always takes into account the ongoing projects and current workload of those tasked with execution. This aspect of leadership is about caring. Show your subordinates you care enough to get their input regarding what lies ahead.
These are just a few ideas to minimize the whip effect on staff. Of course, all factors cannot be foreseen nor should we expect them to be. We also do not want to attempt to do all the thinking or overlook empowering our teams. These actions will create their own set of negative effects at the execution level. However, as leaders, we can serve our staff best by taking the time to consider these factors and others so that we empower them to be successful.
Feel free to share other considerations before rolling out the big decision.