Managing under pressure – Part 3: Decide quickly

As an interim manager, I’m an extreme manager. I have very limited time to initiate a successful turnaround in companies, while operating with limited insight and in a tense atmosphere. In these situations, I benefit from my experience as a rescue diver. Today, I describe how to make appropriate decisions quickly.

Under water, the clock is ticking. The oxygen supply of the compressed air cylinder is limited. When things don’t go according to plan, decisions must be made. Quickly and courageously. Hesitation and procrastination cost breathing oxygen, self-confidence and strength. That is why I have three rules.


Rule 1: Follow principles!

When I have to take decisions under water, I apply a set of standards. The most important standards are: Don’t endanger yourself, people before equipment, follow your plan! Even if it sounds strange: these principles avoid tedious/time-consuming considerations which gives you time and strength for the necessary response.

These principles also help me during interim assignments. Here too, hesitation and procrastination cost time, impact, and room to manoeuvre. In everything I do and decide under pressure, I question my principles. These are:

  • Serve the customer!
  • Serve the employee!
  • Serve the company!


Rule 2: Use standards!

Because time is precious, as a diver I use standards wherever possible. I follow rules, practiced procedures, proven solutions. I lay my lines and consciously attach my diving equipment like everyone else. This enables me and others to take quick and purposeful action when needed and, if necessary, initiate life-sustaining measures.

As a manager I have a similar approach. Here, too, I rely on proven practices that I have mastered to perfection and that others are familiar with. A small example is the “to-do list”, in Swiss-German “Pendenzenliste”. It contains all the tasks to be completed. I work through these in a stoical manner and ensure they are a regular topic in my discussions with employees.

Everyone is aware of outstanding tasks, can work on them, prepare themselves, and add new points. This results in clarity, precious for both me and the employees. Meetings become planned and efficient through this very banal and small standard procedure. Decision requirements are addressed and quickly clarified.


Rule 3: Stay on track!

As a diver I know my limits – in terms of strength, air flow, and experience. Paying attention to these limits is vital for survival. I have a goal that I must not lose sight of – namely: to achieve my objective and resurface. Therefore I don’t make a decision without being aware of the limits of my performance and my diving mission.

Knowing my limits also guides me in my company assignment. Here, too, I can only do justice to my mission if I realistically assess my options, use my knowledge and experience correctly, and only immerse myself in the mission to the extent that I can successfully resurface in the given time and conditions.


Insight for extreme managers

Divers and managers alike must: wisely invest time and energy, rely on tried and tested procedures, and follow their principles. The more pressure there is, the more important this is!

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