Just as there is a very fine line between being polite and being chivalrous, so does the difference between prudence and procrastination require a discerning eye. One can easily be mistaken for the other. You may keep justifying your ultra considerate streak as chivalry while the other person is clearly taking it as an ‘I-am-available’ signal, similarly excessive delay in taking a decision can be misunderstood as being extra cautious.
Prudence often carries with it connotations which describe someone who is overly hesitant in taking steps, sports a dull imagination and is low on the will scale. On the contrary, Classical Philosophers consider prudence a virtue of the sages. Aristotle termed it as ‘Practical Wisdom’ and contrasted it with ‘intuitive reasoning’.
In layman’s terms Prudence can be defined as being sensible, wise, displaying tact and expedience when dealing with different situations. Someone who deploys prudence is considered to be reflective and exercising good judgement.
Managers in their everyday business ideally like to implement judiciousness. They assume that they are being discerning and confuse it with procrastination. They tend to delay taking decisions; they put off matters until an indefinite period of time or literally sleep over it. Often matters drag on; important action items are held back or postponed. It turns out that approvals are being waited on, and no follow up is usually done. The best excuse one can come up with is ‘but I wrote an email to them two weeks ago and no one has come back to me’. Often times, meetings are held and the entire management team is invited, the debate drags on for hours, it digresses to other irrelevant areas shaping into a complex case of rotten egos or Mr.-know-it-all theories, the meeting runs over the scheduled time spilling into the next one but the decision hasn’t been reached and due to the time crunch, the most convenient approach to take is the let’s-schedule-another-meeting-and-talk this-over. The next meeting is never scheduled and the agenda evaporates in thin air! In the meanwhile the management presumes the problem would get solved by itself, literally a bunch of ostriches burying their heads in sand.
The result of this waste is some great ideas going down the drain, precious time being lost to inaction at the right instance. It kills the entire essence of prudence, which is primarily to act and speak in a sensible manner, at the right time and place. Timing is critical in the scheme of prudence. Needless to mention that the action taken has to be supported by appropriate competency, knowledge and farsightedness. But inoperation is certainly a blasphemous misuse of scarce resources.
Instances where procrastination is justifiable and can make sense is when it pertains to inflated egos, rumour mongering or when sensitive esteem issues are being dealt with. It’s best to leave heated discussions as they are, to return to later. Complicated interpersonal issues can be left momentarily and let the magic of time embalm the grievances or settle differences of opinions in situations where the matters are not of urgent nature. There is no point in digging an aggravated issue which doesn’t have an immediate resolution in sight.
Prudence demands that decisions be taken rationally, logically with adequate foresight and reason. Every action is to be based on sufficient analysis, backed by comprehensive research. However, if profound analysis leads to paralysis of action then certainly something has gravely gone wrong somewhere. A sound business must carefully assess all its options and then decide on implementing the best course forward. They key lies in execution of the idea rather than hoping or dreaming for things to materialise. On the management’s part, they need to deploy the right tools, the most suitable strategies which can cut it. Turning a blind eye, or living in the state of inertia will only stagnate the dynamics of the business and will set a plaguing culture of suspension and sluggishness. It is like creating impediments and roadblocks along the smooth flow of work. Eventually, one is structuring an organisation that lacks agility to respond to the changing business scenarios.
While making prudent decisions, one needs to observe past records, take into account the available data, make projections regarding future trends and decide on the best way forward. As a result, it is important to exercise judgment between two available options and evaluate its impact on various dimensions of the company. It is critical to ask some burning questions, undertake a reality check such as being clear and aware of the risk appetite that the company has and accepting it, determining the shock or loss absorbing capacity of business, rather than being delusional and living in happy-land one needs to acknowledge the facts surrounding the business.
Possibly undertake some forecasting based on the available funds or capital, how much do the management experts foresee it to grow to. Realistically and reasonably speaking, how does the market outlook appear to be considering the plan is to offload shares? It would not be prudent to sell the entire stock and then be twiddling your thumbs later on, hoping and praying that market would pick up tomorrow when you jump out of bed. A well thought out strategy needs to be put in place with all controls carefully vested in the most responsible hands.
Certainly, prudence does require measured steps in the right direction but it always promotes constant action. The philosophy is never devoid of actual practice. Whereas procrastination is only a sign of either poor time management, misplaced priorities, serious lack of skills or generally a laid back temperament. As an inherent personality trait this can prove to be lethal for the organization from productivity point of view and senior management must constantly weed out tendencies which point in this direction, as this culture can very easily get cascaded down hierarchies and be adopted as an unhealthy habit. Oftentimes manages feel that they do not have the powers to take decision and this is what impedes action, therefore to truly live the concept of prudence, delegation and empowerment at various levels is the key to removing bottlenecks and purging pockets of procrastinators.
The fine line between the two must be recognised before wrong signals are being taken by an onlooker.