Sink the Rig? Making Better Decisions

by Stephen T. Messenger

October 12, 2021

I’ve been a runner for decades and typically hit the pavement five times a week. Honestly, there are some mornings when I make a conscious decision to half-heartedly run just to say I exercised. Rarely do I see any improvement from these easy sessions.

I can “brag” to my kids and co-workers I ran, but my speed and endurance remain the same. 

In other seasons of life, I’ve deliberately followed a race improvement plan. My running improves, and I can visibly see endurance and speed increase over time.  My purposeful decisions generate positive effects.

All too often at home and work, we make decisions on how to spend our time but get the wrong results. We’re busy, sure, but not productive. The decisions we make lead to outcomes that aren’t as beneficial as they could be.

In 1995, Shell Oil—United Kingdom decided to dispose of the Brent Spar, one of their dilapidated oil rigs in the North Sea, by sinking it in the Atlantic waters. This decision was fraught with environmental risk from the residual oil and chemicals on the platform. The other course of action Shell considered was to tow it to shore and dismantle it.

They conducted a thorough engineering and environmental assessment of both options. After numerous studies and with government support, Shell decided sinking it into the deep sea would be less complex, reduce the risk to employees, and have minor environmental effects to ocean life. 

Shell leadership and the British government were already looking to the next strategic decision when the unexpected occurred. Greenpeace boats were racing toward the rig to begin what would become a fifty-one-day standoff with Shell, complete with water cannons, to protest environmental abuse by the oil giant. 

While Shell may have made a right decision, they certainly didn’t get the right outcome. They made a decision based on convinience instead of results.

The military talks about this as “measures of performance” or doing things right and “measures of effectiveness” or doing the right things.  Ideally, both measures are one and the same.

However, when they fail to align, leaders suffer unintended consequences such as stagnation, disgruntled workforce, or in a worst case scenario, Greenpeace protesters storming your oil rig as stock prices plummet.

Leaders must understand that every decision and action they make generate effects, either positive or negative. Limited effects equate to limited success.

Those in charge must be careful not to confuse doing the right things with doing things right.  It’s easy to stay busy at work. However, every action must have purposeful intent to improve the organization. 

Often times, organizations perform tasks that have no value. We can all remember a meeting we sat through that was entirely pointless.  The lack of planning, information flow, and purpose led the attendees to walk out of the room wondering how they would get their hour back. 

That sixty-minute block could have been used to brainstorm new ideas, encourage team members, or connect with new business partners. Instead, leaders often fail to use time purposefully to generate results.

– If a meeting isn’t helping the organization, stop having it. If you’re attending a meeting that you don’t really need to go to – quit going.

– When a client arrives that has no intention of purchasing goods, don’t meet with him. 

– That thirty minutes at the gym where you went but really just walked around and looked at other people workout; yeah, you can make better use of your time.   

– That project hanging around because of sunk cost, sink it (as long as it’s not an old oil rig…)

Thinking about productive decisions always brings me back to Afghanistan as a young infantry platoon leader. We could easily get an insurgent off the streets by aggressively using military might through ransacking houses and creating property damage.

But this method would create ten more bad guys if we rubbed the local population wrong. Our real job was to help the Afghans and protect the property and rights of the people. A portion of this consisted of capturing the insurgents, but we had to do it the right way.

Every decision a leader makes should generate positive results. This takes planning before you make a decision. Think through the benefits, the consequences, and the best way to accomplish your goals.

Making quality decisions with how you spend your time and focusing on results instead of busyness will create a faster, stronger, and more efficient organization. Remember the guy who runs slow in the morning but doesn’t see any gains? Don’t be like him.

Instead, make productive decisions and use time effectively to generate results.

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