Do you have a bias toward action?

Author and consultant Tom Peters popularized the phrase a “bias toward action” to describe organizations that are led with a posture to execute rather than a posture to evaluate constantly. The opposite of a bias toward action is the dreaded state of “paralysis by analysis.”

On many teams what is often called “strategic planning” is a nice way to cover up an inability to make things happen, a reluctance to pull the trigger, and a fear of change. For some it is much easier to have a thick notebook of ideas, figures, and scenarios than it is actually to execute. Some inevitably know that if the “strategic planning discussions” can last long enough, likely nothing will change. The team can convince itself to stay the same, to not make a move.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, wrote, “In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement” like crazy. Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines famously remarked, “We have a ‘strategic plan.’ It’s called doing things.”

I have consulted with dozens of staff teams and have seen teams with a bias toward action and teams plagued with paralysis by analysis. Typically, you can discern the team’s bent based on how it approaches two things: data and discussions.

1)    The approach to data

A desire to execute is not synonymous with being foolish or reckless; therefore, teams with a bias toward action don’t discount data. They just look at it differently; they look for actionable items. They look at data to learn how to better execute, not simply to have more information. Teams that struggle to implement love excess data. Perhaps it makes them feel safe. And safe is how they will play.

2)    The approach to discussions

A team with a bent toward action understands that “plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). Thus the team engages in robust discussion, and it does so for the sake of clarifying direction. A team plagued with over-analysis allows discussions to result in more confusion. It doesn’t push for simplicity, closure, or direction. It discusses, stops before direction is established, and then re-starts the same discussion months later. Then the team repeats the painful process all over again.

Your team’s approach to data and discussions will likely give you a sense of where you fall on the “paralysis” to “action” continuum.

For the people of God, for a ministry team, one thing trumps all—the presence of the Lord and His leading. When the Lord told Moses that He would use Moses to lead His people, Moses responded, “If Your presence does not go . . . don’t make us go” (Exodus 33:15). Moses wisely only wanted to move, to act, with the Lord’s presence and leading. For us, God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who He has given to us (Romans 5:5). He is with us, in us, and He longs to guide us. We can listen. We can follow. And by His grace, we can move without the endless and mind-numbing discussions.