Many organizations get bogged down in the decision making process. This is an understatement, to be sure. Making timely decisions poses a challenge to many leadership teams.
It would probably be more accurate to say that most organizations get bogged down in the decision making process, at least occasionally. When this happens, several things are likely to occur. Members of leadership teams become frustrated, sometimes with one another. Additionally, when important decisions are neglected team members throughout the organization become frustrated with their leadership. Hence, it is crucial for thriving, growing organizations to conquer the decision making dilemma, which often slows or stalls progress.
What follows is a three-step process for doing just that. This is been shaped and revised over time. I am not certain where the seed thought came from. To the best of my recollection it was from a leadership seminar I attended more than twenty years ago. The notes for which are buried in a box in storage. In the intervening years I have heard several versions of this from a variety of sources. So, if some of these ideas sound familiar to you, now you know why. There is no effort on my part to lift someone else’s material. I simply do not recall the source(s).
Before we can look at the steps to avoid decision drama, we need to make one important, overarching point. Before these steps can be successfully applied, there must be a healthy environment for ideas to germinate, grow, and reach the point that decisions need to be made. Sometimes, there must be a pre-decision decision to decide rather than procrastinate. Those responsible must decide to decide.
Once we are certain that a healthy decision making environment exists, we are ready to take the steps which will enable us to conquer the dilemmas associated with decisions, thus avoiding most of the drama associated with decisions. While much more could be said on each point, these highlights should be helpful as we move through the decision making process.
Step #1: Collect the pertinent data.
Many think of this as a tedious step, especially leaders who are prone to shooting from the hip in their decisions. However, this step is absolutely, positively necessary. The decisions taken by senior leadership set the direction for the organization for years to come and impact scores of lives on a day-to-day basis. Important decisions should never be reached without candidly asking three simple questions:
Do we know what we need to know before attempting to reach a decision on this matter?
Do we have this data before us now for all to consider?
Do we have an adequate grasp of this data in order to make this decision?
Step #2: Discuss, debate, and deliberate.
Sometimes, leaders avoid the hard discussions, because we have an aversion to conflict. To be sure, these discussions can and should be conducted in a positive atmosphere. But, all participants should be able to discuss freely, debate sharply, and deliberate thoughtfully. This will bring conflicting ideas, no doubt. Complete avoidance of conflict is short-sighted, at best; and, it will likely lead to problems in the future. To be in leadership is to ask hard questions. Those who ask hard questions should also be prepared to answer hard questions. This is a two-way street. If we are going to ask others hard questions, then we must give others the latitude to ask us hard questions. Only when we subject our decisions to the serious inquiry involved in discussing, debating, and deliberating, will we be able to have genuine confidence in our decision making process.
Step # 3: Delay or Decide.
Once we take the preceding steps, we have reached the proverbial crossroads in the decision making process. Before discussing this, though, we need to underscore that point “A” below is a viable option in the process. It is possible to delay a decision, decisively. If/when this choice is taken, especially when others in the organization are expecting a decision, communication is crucial. Once we have deliberated on the relevant data we are ready to decide or delay.
A. For obvious reasons, deciding to delay should not be a decision taken lightly, It should be a last resort, which is taken to avoid making a bad decision. Some say that the only thing worse than a bad decision is no decision. Sometimes, this is true. Usually, it is an excuse for not doing the hard work necessary for making a good decision. When we decide to delay we need to set a timer on collecting the missing data needed for making the decision. We also need to communicate the reason for the delay to the fullest extent possible to all concerned.
B. When we do reach a decision, communication is also vitally important. Many good decisions are poorly implemented throughout the organization, due to inadequate or inaccurate communication during the rollout. To the extent possible, announcements pertaining to major decisions should communicated in writing, with distribution to all for whom the decision applies, either directly or indirectly.
So, there you have it. For the most part, conquering the dilemmas associated with decisions is possible if we follow the simple steps outlined above. This can be hard work; but, it is necessary work. The health of the organizations we lead is dependent upon our willingness to dig into the data and understand the ramifications of the options; discuss, debate, deliberate the possibilities; and, then, decide or decide to delay decisively.
© Bill Williams
June 17, 2019