…end of the week and your team needs to make critical choices by the close of business, but you’re on an overseas flight, unreachable and unable to help. The team has two options on the table and both seem equally compelling although each have dramatic long-term consequences if they get it wrong.
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Always making the right call on time keeps you from drifting and puts you at peace, even when away from decision-makers. You want decision-makers near the action making good and consistent decisions, possibly sacrificing one thing for the other while keeping everyone aligned—aligned autonomy.
Strategic planning is a necessary process but, ultimately, distributed teams need to make decisions with limited time and information. If your strategy is trapped in a lengthy document or worse a single executive's head, teams will be more likely to drift off-strategy over time and/or be slowed down as they need to run every decision by one person who owns the strategy.
Busy teams need simple heuristics, or rules of thumb, to guide their decision making. One tool we recommend is an even over statement. These are simple phrases that teams can pin up on a wall and use as strategic touchstones in their work.
- Profit margin even over revenue growth.
- Sustainability even over profitability.
- Innovation even over predictability.
- Best in class customer service even over best in class product features.
- Star teams even over star players.
- Taking a real lunch break even over catching up on emails while you eat at your desk.
- Feedback even over Harmony.
- Collaboration even over Focus.
- Impact even over Following the Plan.
Gather your values, goals, objectives, and desired behaviours and generate valuable outcomes based on them. Get specific and honest on each of those outcomes and tradeoffs. List all tradeoffs as “blank even over blank”, rank them, and put posters of them on the wall for everyone to see.
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Feel the difference
- Small organizations even over global enterprises.
- User growth even over revenue conversion.
- Initial signup retention even over existing user retention.
- Desktop experience even over mobile experience.
- Global enterprises even over small organizations.
- Revenue conversion even over user growth.
- Existing user retention even over initial signup retention.
- Mobile experience even over desktop experience.
Same company, totally different behaviour.
Traits of strong even over statements
The best and strongest even over statements:
- reflect the current state of your business and team;
- align with the intent at least two levels up;
- ease decision-making consistency, quality, and speed at all levels;
- feel personally relevant and honest;
- may require a fierce defence in explanation;
- will cost you something—with every choice you make for one thing, you sacrifice another (a.k.a. opportunity cost);
- feels tough, because of the difficult tradeoff between the designated choices;
- educe specific behaviour, hence culture;
- facilitate a focused aligned autonomy;
- contribute to explicit policy;
- encourage honesty and accountability;
- generate positive energy;
- can be hard to master on your first try;
How to Generate Even Over Statements
- Gather what you have. Reflect on any existing purpose/mission/values charters and/or strategy documents your team may have already generated. Don't worry if you haven't done this yet, most teams follow an unwritten strategy even if they haven't captured it for sharing. Use this opportunity to make your strategy more explicit. Specifically, keep your eye out for
- stated goals or objectives; and
- defined values, behaviors, or principles.
- Brainstorm positive outcomes, traits, and goals aligned with your values and/or strategy. Create a list of what your team values most. Examples: accountability, productivity, total honesty, fat profit margins, social responsibility, etc.
- Get specific and honest about the tradeoff likely required for every positive you listed. For example, a fat profit margin is likely achieved with a less competitive price point. Total honesty may create interpersonal conflicts and stressful creative reviews. React and reflect on these costs as a team. If this is your first time writing even over statements, expressing the cost of a positive outcome may be difficult so we've provided some practice exercises you can try below.
- Fill in the blanks: outcome A even over outcome B. The first blank is the preferred positive outcome (e.g. 'A fat profit margin'), the second blank is the tradeoff–only expressed as a positive outcome itself (e.g. 'A competitive price point').
- Vote and rank. If you're generating even over statements with your team, give everyone an opportunity to vote for the statements which best reflect the strategic direction at-hand and most honestly capture how the team behaves. Ultimately, you want to arrive at no more than five even over statements.
Pro Tip: An even over statement should feel like it costs you something. Because of opportunity costs, every choice you make is a sacrifice. Therefore, the hallmark of a strong even over statement is how difficult the tradeoff feels between the designated choices. For example, “being rich even over being poor” is a bad even over statement because it in no way forces a choice.
Get Some Practice
even over statements can be hard to master on your first try, but don't give up–we believe they can be incredibly useful for your team. When we work with clients, we introduce two practice exercises that can be more personally relevant and a bit fun. For each prompt, run through the steps above.
Generate even over statements that describe how you approached dating when/if you were single in your 20's.
- Physical attraction even over shared interests.
- Neighbors even over soulmates.
- Likes the same music even over also wants to have children.
- Has a real job even over every other positive attribute.
Now, generate even over statements that describe how you decided on where you currently live.
- Short commute even over exciting night life.
- Good schools even over good restaurants.
- A large kitchen even over a walk-in closet.
- Courteous neighbors even over air conditioning.
In each of the examples, both the attribute on the left and the right of the statement are positive, yet the people who wrote these expressed an interest in one positive attribute even at the cost of the other.
The best even over statements feel personally relevant, honest, and might even require a fierce defense in explanation.
How to Use Even Over Statements
Now that you've developed and refined your even over statements, find every opportunity to incorporate them into daily decision making. If you're a physically co-located team, use the walls around you and write or pin up the statements. If you're remote or distributed, paste them into your working documents or project management tools. As you make decisions, encourage everyone on the team to recite your even over statements and ensure they still reflect the current state of your business and team.
Takeaway: Your team may have already developed implicit even over statements; or rather, individuals on your team may have already developed conflicting even over statements. By clearing elaborating on your values as a team, you'll be able to make better, more consistent decisions over time.