The Raw Deal with Gut Feel

The Raw Deal with Gut Feel

Imagine this. You’re on the operating table about to have your appendix removed.  You’re drifting gently into la-la land unable to speak when your surgeon walks in and says, “Ok folks, gut feel says it’s the right leg we need to take off.”  Oh dear.

You’re sitting on a plane that been delayed for engine repairs and you hear the mechanic say, “anyone know whether this washer goes inside or out? Gut feel says it shouldn’t really matter.”  Uh, can I get off this plane?

Now, from recent personal experience I can tell you surgery relies on very thorough and precise process drawn from years of execution, reflection and revision (with some bad news in the middle). And flying is one of the safest ways of moving yet devised.

Yet, if surgeons and airline mechanics followed proven processes as effectively as many companies do, our mortality rate would be exponentially greater and we’d be traveling most places by donkey.

In the last quarter, I have watched process execution flounder in areas as diverse as hiring, new product development, and team communication because of poorly considered “gut feel” surgery on critical steps in the process.  Let’s use these 3 situations as examples of where letting gut feel override commitment to a proven process can lead you astray:

Ditching proven hiring process for gut feel

In his book WHO, Brad Smart offers a simplified version of his Topgrading hiring and evaluation process. In it, Smart is very clear – ditch gut feel when it comes to role definition and hiring. I have seen two easy-to-take shortcuts taken when transitioning an existing team member into a new role and in hiring to replace that person: not being really clear on both role descriptions, and not using a proven process like Smart’s WHO process with both people.

Why are these shortcuts so easy to take? Well, gut feel says the person we’re transitioning is already awesome so they must be as right and ready for their new role as they were for the old one and gut feel says the new person is fantastic so they will figure their role out as they go. Talk about setting two people up for declining motivation and engagement, confusion with customers and other staff, and larger distractions for leaders down the road. The lesson:  Whether hiring new team members or transitioning existing ones to new roles complete the process. Even for people you “know.”

Combining process steps to rush Product Market Validation

The quickest ways I have seen a client destroy the effectiveness of the Market Validation process is by combining two clearly distinct steps into one, and ignoring the process requirement to interview the customer in pairs. In his book Running Lean, Ash Maurya’s outlines the Lean Startup Canvas and Market Validation Process, a Lean version of Alex Osterwalders’ Business Model Canvas. It’s a terrific tool for getting out of the building in exactly the right way to proof new product ideas and markets BEFORE spending big bucks. Maurya emphasizes keeping the steps explicitly separate and having two people in customer interviews to increase knowledge gain and reduce the potential for bias in the research. The lesson: Avoid failing big instead of small – keep the MVP steps discrete and always use two people when interviewing.

Eliminating a small but vital meeting communication step

Recently I encountered a client who had intentionally deleted a step from the ViRTUS Weekly Tactical Meeting agenda format – the very important cascading communication section where the group decides what will be communicated, to who, by whom and when – because they “didn’t really need it”. What is the cost of this edit?  Their recent staff survey showed low grades and reduced confidence around internal communication of important business shifts that were explicitly discussed at the Weekly Tactical – hiring, firing, and technology changes. The lesson:  Stick to the meeting process – take the time to agree on a message and communication strategy even for simple decisions.

What’s the solution? 

If I were in your shoes, I would get clear on what matters inside each of the process parts BEFORE modifying, skipping or combining them. Try executing the new process as it was intended and then reflect, revise and repeat.  Notice how the potential for editing is built in to this idea – based on a thoughtful exploration of your experience and results rather than misguided gut feel.

Jeffrey Kearney
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