The Decisive Moments Approach

Great workers often do good work at decisive moments. Commentators may describe such people as having the following qualities: 

“They deliver the goods when it matters … They are good at managing crises … They do great work on great occasions.”

Imagine that you want to follow this approach in your own way. You may aim to encourage a person, lead a team, present to a large audience, appear on television or do another activity. One approach is to focus on the following themes.

Doing Your Best

Great workers maintain the habit of doing their best when performing certain activities. They often focus on a specific activity where they can do superb work. They then demonstrate the desire and discipline to do great work.

Great teams also encourage their people to develop the habit of doing their best. Many do this by recruiting people who are positive, professional and have the ability to be peak performers.

Some teams must start from scratch, however, and help their people to deliver the required standards. They encourage people:

To focus on the team’s goals;

To focus on the key strategies they can follow to achieve the team’s goals;

To focus on the professional standards they must deliver to achieve the team’s goals.

This is an approach I saw in action when running the kick-off workshop for a yacht crew competing in round-the-world BT Global Challenge.

Each crew was made up of people from all walks of life, many with little experience of sailing. The team I worked with had their first meeting in North Wales.

After some introductions, the skipper asked people to brainstorm the team’s goals. The crew members got excited, saying things like:

“We are going to win.”

Listening to the presentations, the skipper showed respect for each of the suggestions. After summarising their ideas, he outlined his approach in the following way.

“Looking at the brainstormed ideas and adding to these, I would suggest the following goals. The top one is my guiding principle as a skipper. I would suggest the following aims

The crew members accepted the salutary lesson. After some discussion and refinement, they agreed on the real results to achieve. People then did a session where they focused on the following themes. 

The specific goals they wanted to achieve … The specific strategies they could follow to achieve the goals … They specific pluses and minuses involved in working to achieve the goals.

The following pages describe the exercises that people did. They then clarified whether they were prepared to do their best to work towards achieving the goals.

The crew members explored these themes. Bearing in mind the tough conditions – such as storms in the Southern Ocean – it was important to explore the potential pluses and minuses involved.

The next step was to clarify each person’s best contribution. Bearing in mind the standards of work required – which sometimes involved life or death situations – it was important to encourage people to play to their strengths.

This posed a unique challenge. A few people had sailed before, but most were novices. They all brought different skills, however, which they could use to help to achieve the goals. They were cooks, counsellors, teachers, salespeople, technicians and had other skills.

Bearing this in mind, each person was invited to make a flip chart describing their strengths and best contributions. They put these around the walls of the room and explored each person’s strengths. 

Bearing in mind their strengths, people made clear contracts about the specific things they would deliver towards achieving the goals. This approach made it more likely they would be able to do superb work at critical moments during the race.

Great teams often encourage their people to pursue certain principles they can follow to deliver high standards each day. Bearing this in mind, the crew did a version of the following exercise.

Delivering The Goods

Great workers focus on delivering the goods in certain situations. Bearing in mind what they can control, they often take the following steps to making this happen:

They clarify the real results to achieve – the picture of success;

They clarify the strategies they can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success;

They pursue their action plan for following these strategies and doing their best to deliver the picture of success.

Different people may, however, have different definitions of success. They may aim to encourage other people, build a happy family, gain status, win medals, leave a positive legacy or to achieve other things in their life.

Cath Bishop, an Olympic Medal Winner in rowing, encourages people to explore their definitions of success. Below is an excerpt from an article she wrote on this theme. She expanded on this topic in her book The Long Win.

What Does Winning Really Mean?

Of course, in sport it seems so temptingly obvious and simple – it’s about crossing the line first, being on the top step of the podium, holding that trophy. 

Yet those are all split-second moments. Those need to be translated into meaning beyond that split-second if they are to be long-lasting positive experiences. 

When they aren’t translated, that allows a world to exist where it’s possible for an Olympic gold medallist to walk back into the village feeling ‘empty’ and ‘hollow’, or where ‘winning sport stars’ can actually be suffering depression and worse. 

The best sports coaches are those who are not afraid to ask their athletes what they want to do after sport, and strong enough to ask and listen to the deeper motivations that have driven their athletes to be in this unnatural high performance environment striving to be the best in the world. 

That’s the beginning of building a wider perspective and deeper meaning about the extreme and often short-lived experience of elite sport.

Many organisations confidently define their raison d’etre to be ‘no 1 in the marketplace.’ 

But is that helpful to performance? Wouldn’t it be better to define success in terms of the company’s own vision of what it wants to achieve and contribute? 

Isn’t success about changing the world for the better in some way, whether through providing a better world-class service to its customers, creating a new and better product or having an impact that improves the environment and society around it? 

Purpose starts a conversation about success that goes beyond winning. 

It’s about a longer-term timeframe, never just a split-second.

It’s about a wider perspective, not a narrow view. 

And it’s about people’s whole lives, as individuals and communities, not measured in short-term results, but longer-term experiences.

Decisive Moments

Great workers rise to the occasion when it matters. Some do this because they have developed the daily habit of delivering high standards. Some also believe that every moment is an opportunity to do superb work.

Great teams put people in the places where they are most likely to do superb work at decisive moments. They encourage people to focus on the specific activities – and perform the specific roles – where they demonstrate the following qualities:

They have good radar – they see patterns quickly and seem to know what will happen before it happens – and they clarify the desired results;

They have a wide repertoire of tools they can use to work towards achieving the desired results;

They have the ability to reach into their repertoire and apply the right tools in the right way to get the desired results.

Great teams encourage, educate and enable them to manage decisive moments. The yachting team I worked with took this approach. They looked ahead to potentially difficult situations. Such moments could include:

Crew members falling overboard … Medical emergencies … Falling a long way behind other competitors in the race … Dealing with storms.

People having little sleep but needing to help each other … Missing loved ones … Being stationary and without any wind when in the Doldrums.

Great teams encourage their people to anticipate and, if possible, prevent such situations. They also educate them to focus on what they can do if, despite their best efforts, they encounter such challenges.

The yacht crew did many exercises on this theme. This gave them the opportunity to develop their skills for doing superb work at decisive moments. Here is the type of exercise they did.

Great teams have people who take control and act as calming influencers at decisive moments. They buy time to think, clarify the possible options and settle on their chosen strategy. They communicate a clear plan, coordinate people’s strengths and enable people to do superb work.

As mentioned earlier, the yacht crew had the following goals:

To get everybody around the world and home safely;

To get the boat to go as fast as possible every day;

To give people a positive experience they remember for a lifetime.

The crew did get around the world safely. They kept improving their performance and finished in the middle of the pack. This also involved doing superb work at decisive moments, particularly during storms in the Southern Ocean.

The crew members experienced the joy of teamwork plus many dramas. People also learned lessons they could apply in their future lives. Many looked back on it as an experience that gave them positive memories for life.

There are many ways to fine work. One approach is to do your best and deliver the goods at decisive moments. It is to rise to the occasion and do great work when it matters.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may want to follow elements of this approach? This could be in your personal or professional life. How could you follow this approach in your own way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>