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Toddler Audit December 4, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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As any parent can tell you, there comes a time in a child’s life when they seek to learn everything.  Around the age of three or so, children suddenly want to understand the reason for everything.  No matter what the issue, they ask one simple question, over and over again: “why?”

Parents are driven to distraction by this, as their children soon discover.  It’s tough to argue with a thirst for knowledge, though, so parents will tolerate a lot of questions before hiding behind the old stand-by of “because I said so.”

As leaders, we would do well to emulate toddlers on occasion, at least on the thirst-for-knowledge front. But don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that we go around asking other people “why?” They have enough  to do without our constant intrusion.  Instead, we need to spend time asking the question of ourselves.

The pace of leadership is ever-increasing, which forces us to make decisions rapidly.  We rely on instinct and history, letting our experience guide us.  There’s nothing wrong with this, of course; it’s why experience is so important in making successful decisions.

Even so, we need to stop periodically and make sure we understand why we are doing certain things certain ways.  And like that persistent toddler, we need to question each successive answer to drill into the foundations of our decisions.  If those foundations prove to be solid, then our decisions will be solid.  If you find yourself winding up with answers like “we’ve always done it that way” or “because so-and-so says so,” you may want to reconsider what you are doing.

This “Toddler Audit” is an obvious exercise when dissecting a technical decision.  Technical decisions have technical foundations, and it is relatively easy to get to the bottom of why you are selecting a tool or deploying a system.  A Toddler Audit can also be useful during a budgeting exercise as you seek to justify each item and confirm that you have a good number assigned to each expense or income item.

Toddler Audits get a bit trickier on the soft side of our business.  If you are figuring out how to challenge people, or divide up work, or expand an organization, the answers to “why” become much more subjective and soft.  That’s not to say that the process breaks down; you just need to be more thoughtful with your answers to make sure you are being honest with yourself.

Finally, Toddler Audits really help analyze what we are doing at any given point.  Here’s an interesting exercise: at random times during the day, stop and ask why you are doing whatever it is you are doing at that exact moment.  Is it the right thing to be doing?  Is it the most important?  Is it taking up too much time, or stealing your attention from something else?  All good questions, and you should have good answers.

If you survive a Toddler Audit, I suspect you’ll know a lot more about the foundations of your decision process, which should improve your decision making.  It may even prepare you for the dreaded Teenager Audit: “Why not?”

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1. Wally Bock - December 9, 2009

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

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