How do you convert expert, often conflicting, opinions into useful insights?
How do you foster efficient group decision-making in an effective manner?
How do you learn from past decisions (those made by you, and by others)?
Executives rate the ability to make decisions as the single most important of all business skills, yet few have the training needed to make good decisions consistently. Decisions are often made lacking complete information, in less time than needed, and with little to no skill beyond intuition simple logic applied.
With dynamic business environments and information overload being the new “normal”, the old-fashioned way of making decisions intuitively is no longer a viable business option. Decisions by status quo, intuition, or simple logic, are not enough to achieve optimal results. Why doesn’t intuition work? Well, it might if you’re simply trying to decide on a non-complex problem, such as what time to hold a meeting, but for more complex problems that require several areas of consideration (such as cost, timeliness, personnel resource skills and/or availability, etc.), a decision making process is necessary.
The skill of effective decision-making is often assumed to be within any decision-maker, but it is not as easy as you might think. To learn from your decisions, a process will help you understand what went right, what went wrong, and allow for iterative improvements based on the decision outcome and assessment of the actual decision inputs. If your primary means of decision making is through meetings with a Bunch Of Guys/Gals Sitting Around a Table (BOGSAT), making consensus-based, intuitive decisions, you will never have decision accountability, or the ability to go back and assess what went right / wrong with the decision. Not having the ability to assess the decision approach and components leaves you with making the same mistakes over and over – never having the opportunity to improve on your decision-approach, and ultimately on your decision results.
Speaking of decision outcomes, do you know what the true result of your decision was? For example, if you decided to allow a $3 Million purchase of IT equipment to perform a specific function or task, do you know if that task performed as expected? Do you know if the exact $3 Million was spent, and how? Was it enough, or too much? You’ll likely only hear back if the $3 Million wasn’t enough, and you’ll likely hear only the highest level of “yes, it worked”, or perhaps “It did was we wanted, congratulations”. But HOW much is it doing what you wanted, and was that $3 Million spent, spent in a way that optimized your achievement overall? How do you know when an implementation is “good enough” if you haven’t defined – upfront and concisely – your expectations of the outcome in the first place?
If you don’t have complete strategic alignment, then you don’t have the understanding of 1) What your organization is ultimately trying to achieve and 2) How, specifically, you are going to get there. You should be able to trace every single resource (person, piece of equipment, money, etc.) used to achieve any given strategic objective. It doesn’t matter if you are an organization operating within “agile” execution methods, or under the old-school Project Management Framework (which are really one in the same, both call for iteration – but I won’t dive into that in this article), you should know exactly how you’re spending your money and what results you are both expecting, and actually getting from those expenses. Not only should you IF you are or are not achieving the expected results, but you should know by how much. Yes, that’s right. Even the intangibles can be translated into quantifiable – but meaningful – measures with some thought. In fact, for many organizations the intangibles are more important than the tangibles – achieving the intangibles are what drive positive tangible results (such as profits).
There is a lot that goes into decision making, and a lot of it ties into prioritization and execution, if you want to look at the big picture. The big picture (strategy) has to be clearly understand in enough detail, with enough clarity to be able to give to people to know and understand concisely enough how to implement the decision. This, of course, goes beyond just the skill of decision making itself. Once the decision is made, you must be prepared to properly communicate it, or the decision will render itself useless – almost like it never even happened.
Let’s face it – anyone can make a decision. But those who can make a GOOD decision are those that understand all the inputs of that decision, the upfront expectation of that decision, how – specifically – that decision will impact the overall strategy, how that decision will be communicated, and ultimately – how that decision will be implemented and achieved.
Stay tuned for more information relating to solid decision making practices in the coming weeks! You can check us out on Facebook, too!
Do you make decisions that you are “comfortable” with? Do you weigh those decision that are comfortable, to see how they compare with what is most important? While going with your intuition is fine when deciding what to eat for dinner, when it comes to complexity, a decision process that helps remove decision biases should be mandatory!
You see, when people make decisions, they often make them using the right half of the brain (such as using intuition), and use the left side of the brain to articulate the decision (such as logic). Doing this alone is likely fine for smaller, less complex decisions, but when you are deciding on something that contains multiple facets to consider (cost, personnel, location, timeliness, etc.), a decision making process will help remove some of the bias and result in greater decision success rates. Who doesn’t want solid success rates?
One of the biggest decision biases is that of the status quo – otherwise known as the “comfort zone syndrome”. This occurs when people prefer anything that perpetuates the existing state – status quo. Studies indicate that people often overvalue the status quo because stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is emotionally uncomfortable.
Why is moving from status quo so uncomfortable, you ask? Fantastic question! Moving away from the comfort zone into a more methodical, repeatable process increases ones’ responsibility and potentially opens them up for criticism if the decision doesn’t work out. Utilizing the “status quo” way alleviates much of the responsibilities and places them on a consensus “group” to hold the blame if things don’t go as desired. What many fail to realize, however, is that utilizing a process-based approach actually minimized risk because it considers key stakeholders as part of the process – or should, at least. When key stakeholders are brought in early-on into the decision-making process, they are more likely to approve of the outcome and to trust you and your organization more.
How has your business, or your organization decided upon the most complex decisions that have multiple factors to consider?
A good swing of the bat takes no longer than a bad swing of the bat in baseball, right? One results in a home run, while the other results in a foul. In both instances, the bat was swung in the same amount of time – so why such different results? Perhaps a simple bat swing is more complex than we anticipated! Much like baseball, being effective – especially in the complex decision space, requires asking the right questions, assessing what happened that went right or wrong, and then learn new ways to approach the decision better in similar future situations.
In my 25+ years spent in the professional decision-making space of business (both public sector and private), I have found that significant amounts of time are wasted in meetings and discussions because people focus on the wrong things. They don’t ask the right questions, fail to adequately articulate what they actually want (or don’t really know what they want), they lack the right data, or worse – fail to properly analyze the data even if they do have it. The consequences, especially over time, tends to be a lot of backtracking, ambiguity, declined morale, and unnecessary chaos.
Why not, instead, utilize a bold decision making process that yields real results – and in a timely matter, so that those wasted meetings can be a thing of the past? A good decision making process, in the long run, will save an organization a significant amount of time by removing ambiguity. That alone will improve morale, and the resulting increase in successes will continue to improve morale. Why not focus on making the right decision the FIRST time? Don’t think you have the time? Think about how long it will take you – after you make that “quick” decision, to go back and redo it three, four or even five times while you try to get it right! Having a decision making process allows for assessment of what went right or wrong, immediately. The lack of a process negates that option, and often results in multiple attempts to achieve the same thing.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll dive a bit deeper on some decision-making options to help incorporate a process-based decision making capability in your organization. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what methods or decision making processes your organization currently uses to make complex decisions?
Research indicates that prioritizing work efforts is the #1 investment challenge of both managers and executive decision makers. The need to “do more with less” makes choosing the right projects, at the right time, more important than ever. Today’s decision making processes within organizations are often:
- Immature because they rely on the (simplistic but deadly) BOGSAT (Bunch Of Guys/Gals Sitting Around A Table… making ill-informed, non-transparent decisions)
- Lacking a solid understanding of the costs, risks, and benefits of proposed projects
- Inflicted with undetected individual and group bias, rather than having processes that recognize and counteract the bias
- Full of unjustified project portfolios
- Failing to incorporate the long-term value of knowledge acquisition
- Measuring nothing, or the wrong things
Do any of these sounds familiar? I’m putting together a course on “The Executive Decision Making Process: that will walk you through some of the challenges, and ways to minimize them! Look for this online course coming in March 2015!
What are some of your biggest organizational decision-making challenges? Documenting decisions? Following up with them to ensure they were actually implemented?