ABBYY CEO: Hesitation Can Kill Great Companies

For senior leaders, every day is full of tough decisions.

But when those closest to the problem are unable to act decisively, progress stalls and opportunities slip away — a lesson that many organizations have learned the hard way.

“Tough decisions are tough for a reason. Don’t expect a very difficult problem to be solved easily,” Ulf Persson, CEO at intelligent automation company ABBYY, tells PYMNTS.

“But there needs to be the right to fail, make mistakes, and course correct,” he says, explaining that it is crucial for business leaders to embrace a quick-thinking decisiveness, grounded in personal accountability, when faced with a strategic fork in the road.

“If you are put in a position of leadership, then you’re there for a reason. You’ve probably shown yourself able to make tough calls, and you’ve gained experience. So it is important to really to trust yourself and trust your process,” Persson adds. “And listen to your colleagues … always communicate more than you think is needed because that’s what is needed.”

By delegating authority and fostering an environment of openness, organizations can tap into the collective wisdom of their workforce, ensuring that valuable insights are not lost in the hierarchy and are instead able to be drawn upon when a business comes to a pivotal crossroad.

After all, hesitation kills — and it is always easier to make the right decision after learning from the wrong one than it is to play catch up after standing still.

Removing Indecision Through Communication and Focus

Leadership goes hand in hand with successful decision-making, but operating a winning business takes a village.

I’m blessed with really smart people, people who know much more than I do in many, many areas. It would be silly not to listen to them. They have all this information, all this experience. So they will enrich the analysis, and they will enrich the decision,” explains Persson.

But it is important to make the decision, he adds, even if it ends up being the wrong one. “Don’t let pride stand in the way of taking corrective measures. Accept it and improve.”

And that task falls on the shoulders of the executives hired in part for their ability to strategically and decisively make it.

Persson would know. A few years back, his company made the decision to jump from its traditional markets in OCR (optical character recognition) and intelligent capture and refocus on the much broader and faster-growing markets of intelligent document processing and process mining, effectively serving and enabling the intelligent automation market.

“We, as a company, had to change everything. We had to look at everything, turn every stone,” Persson explains.

“It was quite a risk, there was a lot at stake. … We had to change how we sell and who we sell to. The buyer persona was different. What we’re selling was different. But it meant that in order to keep the speed of change, we also had to focus,” he adds.

And socializing a new focus requires a lot of communication.

“One lesson that I’ve learned many, many times is that when you think you’ve communicated something well, you need to do it three more times in order for it to really get settled into everyone’s understanding,” Persson says.

Being in Driver’s Seat Means You Need to Drive

Trusting oneself, listening to others, and effectively communicating decisions are crucial leadership skills. And humility and a commitment to continuous improvement are key ingredients in the recipe for business success.

One of the bigger benefits of making a difficult decision, explains Persson, is that peers and competitors will find it equally as challenging to do the same.

“Making those difficult transformations becomes a barrier to entry for others who want to come into your market,” he says.

Speaking to ABBYY’s own transformation, Persson emphasizes that it was “probably more difficult to transform ourselves into a more customer-centric organization than I would have thought at the outset.”

But you can view this as a problem, he notes, or you can view it as an opportunity.

“I was able to see what was going on in the market around us. And I asked myself, ‘How can we turn that into an opportunity for us, rather than a threat?’” Persson explains.

As for what the ABBYY CEO would tell his peers faced with their own tough decisions?

“At the end of the day, someone has to make the call,” he says. “And at the end of the day, someone has to stand by it. If you are an executive and leader, you’re paid to make hard decisions. Trust yourself to make them. And listen to your colleagues.”