On making decisions promptly

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Napoleon Hill recorded a commentary on the Three Causes of Failure back in 1953. While listening to the recording, I noticed something of rather interesting value. Hill recounted an event as an example of the cost of procrastination.

Some years ago one of the large automobile manufacturing companies decided to begin an extensive expansion program. The president called in 100 young men from the various departments of the plant and said to them: “Gentlemen. We are going to enlarge our plant and greatly increase our output of automobiles. Which means that we will need executives and department managers far beyond our present staff.”

Hill went on to describe the conditions being offered to these men, which included working four hours a day on their regular duties, four hours of training, there will be homework, and the injunction that this may require additional work beyond the regular work day. He gave them one hour to make up their minds. Twenty-three accepted the offer. The next day, thirty more came into the office saying they had decided to accept the offer, some after talking it over with their wives. The president of the company informed them, however, that the offer had been withdrawn because, as was put

Gentlemen you were given one hour in which to make up your minds after you had all the facts concerning my offer that I could give you.

The point was that these men had lost the opportunity because they had, according the president, demonstrated that they could not make up their minds when they had all the facts. The president, however, was wrong. Dead wrong. And his incorrectness may be an indicator of what was about to happen to the automotive industry over the next few decades.

While it can be argued that the single men had all the facts, those who were married did not possess all of the facts about how the offer would impact their lives. Indeed, it can be assumed that of the fifty who still didn’t approach the president to accept the offer, at least some had consulted with their family and decided that the impact would be too great.

Although this can be dismissed as rising executives knowing what they wanted, it was also  a demonstration of selfishness at work. Men rising to executive position who, in all likelihood, did so without any consideration to the impact beyond their career. Remember, it was 1953 when this interview took place. Some years ago had to be at some point after 1945 and was probably right about 1950. The men involved would have been roughly 30 – 35 years old. Twenty years later, these 50 – 55 year old men who had demonstrated that their careers came ahead of any other consideration were running the automotive companies right at the time when Japanese and German car makers were starting to run circles around the Big Three.

Family is arguably far more important than one’s employer and the fact that the rising executives were willing to put career over any possible family considerations was less than encouraging concerning their potential loyalty to their company vs their career.

The moral of the story is simple: if you are an executive, don’t assume that your people have all the information they need to make a decision until you have verified your assumption. And secondly, don’t assume that a rapid decision is good for your company. The only thing that you can be sure of is that a rapid decision is intended to help the person deciding. Or, to the point, don’t assume. You know why.