Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Only Quick-Minded Business Managers Will Survive '90S

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Only Quick-Minded Business Managers Will Survive '90S

Article excerpt

During the buildup to the Gulf War, I paid a visit to CNN in Atlanta. At one tense juncture, I watched Senior Executive Producer Bob Furnad direct an hour of live news. He stood in the control room, trying to make sense of madness _ and pulled it all off with aplomb. Looking only at the screen, you would have thought he was following a detailed script.

Instead, dozens of TV monitors stared him in the face. Staffers raced in and out, throwing notes at him, shouting at him.

Phones rang. Faxes cranked. Yet in the midst of a multimillion-dollar, high-tech, global hub, Furnad worked off a homely legal pad _ scribbling notes and barking orders to technicians, while engaging in a dozen simultaneous phone conversations from as many points around the globe.

Furnad's style defines CNN. The network eschews bureaucracy and thrives on action. Decisions that take competitors hours, days, perhaps weeks, are made in minutes by a lean, feisty, constantly in touch, top team.

CNN came to mind while reading a prize-winning California Management Review article by Stanford Professor Kathleen Eisenhardt. Titled "Speed and Strategic Choice: How Managers Accelerate Decision-making," Eisenhardt (with University of Virginia colleague Jay Bourgeois) studied decision makers at 12 microcomputer firms.

The slowpokes took 12 to 18 months to do what the quick set pulled off in two to four.

Eisenhardt discovered five major distinctions between the two sorts.

To begin with, the speedos swam in a deep, turbulent sea of real-time information, while the slugabeds relied on "planning and futuristic information." The hustlers obsessively tracked operating measures such as bookings, backlog, cash and engineering milestones, often updated daily. And they typically scheduled as many as three weekly, must-attend, top-team meetings to chew over "what's happening," as one executive put it. Constant e-mail chatter and face-to-face meetings almost completely superseded the ubiquitous memo, lengthy reports, and ponderous get-togethers that marked the languorous firms.

Perversely, Eisenhardt notes, slow decision makers consider fewer alternatives than their speedy kin! They minutely dissect each possibility, while the greased-lightening gang considers a batch of options _ all at once.

The bunch-at-once approach has wonderful side benefits, Eisenhardt reported. "Comparative analysis sharpens preferences," she said. Looking at lots of choices also builds confidence and provides fallback positions, which are frequently needed in today's crazy-quilt marketplace.

The one-at-a-timers mull and mull _ and mull and mull _ often until opportunity passes them by. When the much belabored option dies, they're left with nothing, and must fire up the cumbersome process once again. …

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