It is a cliché, and under most circumstances clichés should be avoided. However, when talking about decision-making, it is entirely appropriate. The implication of a phrase like ‘fish or cut bait’ is to make a decision one way or another. Unfortunately, there are more than enough stories of businesses or people who failed at reaching goals because they could not make a choice and commit to the path ahead. I particularly like to reference ‘fish or cut bait’ because it directly talks about either stick with the current plan or abandon it – two very different choices.
In my experiences, I’ve seen many a project progress (forced is more like it) forward even though it could end up being a bad idea. Maybe there was an upcoming shortage of money, resources or other support; maybe the outcome was no longer a priority or even necessary. Whatever the case, leaders may be reluctant to stop. Some refuse to admit the true situation due to passion about the topic or some do not even see there is a problem. It is really tough to devote time, effort and money to a goal that struggles. But the question is: What do you do about it, and how can you handle the impact on the team? Keep in mind that an entire group of people has devoted time, effort and maybe money to the goal. A decision has to be made to either push forward or change, and neither one will be easy.
The first thing I do when faced with a fork in the road like this is look at the whole picture – review again what the end result is supposed to look like and then backtrack over the path that led to this point. It is important to keep clear where there were missed warning signals and what circumstances were outside the team’s control. The reason for this clarity is the next higher person in the chain of command is going to want to know these answers; so it’s best to get ready. I also would engage the entire team for this review. Other people see things differently and can offer valuable insight to help understand where things may have gotten off track and what the path forward might look like. People in groups can usually tell when situations get uncomfortable and have some wisdom in how to make them better.
Leaders must have the courage to look at a situation and be ready to leave the existing road completely, which can be rather intimidating. That type of change is rather personal for the leader and the team because it signals failure on some levels. The important thing to remember is that through all failure, there is the opportunity for greatness by learning from the experience. We have to be brave enough to change the end goal if necessary or change the plan for success or even both. The key to overall accomplishment lies in the attitude approaching the change and the communication of the change up, down and sideways through the chain of command. Everyone involved needs to be aware of where things are at, where they need to be and the structure to achieve the goal. Otherwise, the team will end up with another struggling endeavor and go through this type of change more than once on a task, which could be devastating to the team. As leaders we want to achieve; so either be ready to be patient, solid and calm to get the fish or cut the line, try a new lure/bait/location (hopefully improved from the last unsuccessful attempt) and fish again. Either way, we don’t stop fishing!
– Lori Buresh
CEO, The Professional Development Team