A cure for bad decisions?
A cure for bad decisions?
These simple, actionable methods are not a cure for every bad decision. But together they form a powerful way to move forward with confidence.
According to a recent Reuters report, nearly half of British workers polled say their bosses are incompetent, make poor decisions, and lack confidence.
What’s more, of those who say their bosses don't know what they are doing, 83 percent said that management's poor decision making damages morale, half say it hurts productivity, and 19 percent say it hands competitors an advantage.
What’s going on here? Are British managers really all that dithering? We don’t think so. Buried in the story are these important points: a quarter of the unhappy employees say managers are given insufficient powers by senior management, and 21 percent say their managers have received too little training.
Results like this indicate a lack of simple, basic decision making skills. And in particular: the skills needed to make good decisions that stick.
There are two primary places where business decisions break down:
1) In the group, where the decision making process doesn’t work.
2) Organizationally - beyond the decision making leader or group.
In order to help British (and other) managers rise in the estimations of their employees, let’s first look at three very common problems with decision making inside the group, and propose what to do about them.
Scoping a Decision
Often, a group leaps into making a decision before it has effectively scoped the decision at hand. In other words, the boundary of the decision is so unclear that each team member is seeking agreement on a different decision. You can recognize this is going on in your team when:
• The group appears to be deciding six things at once.
• There is lots of wheel-spinning, and people are talking about the same issue in different ways.
• People are in agreement about the overall issue, but fighting about details.
The solution is to ask the question: “What is it we’re trying to decide?” In the case of the purchase of a product, is the decision to purchase it, explore its feasibility, or make a recommendation to senior management? Come up with a clear statement of what you are deciding, and carry on from there. If there are several steps to the decision, break it down into its smaller agreements before proceeding.
Three Steps to Agreement Building
Another common problem is that people in groups have different expectations of what it means to nod their heads. Leaders and teams need to be explicit that a decision or agreement has actually been reached. Agreement should not be assumed. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’m sure many of you have left a meeting thinking, "We’ll never be able to decide on this," only to receive a memo reporting a decision had been reached! What happened?
What probably happened is something like this: the group leader said casually, "So, we’re good to go?" and saw a few heads nod. The catch is, he hadn’t really checked for agreement. What it boils down to is practicing the three steps of building an agreement – getting very clear about those, and knowing what "agreement" on a decision is when we have it.
Interaction Associates has developed a three-step process called "Three Steps to Building Agreement" that removes any question that agreement has been reached. Download the Three Steps here. It’s simple, it works, and it saves a whole lot of churn. Try it at your next decision making meeting and let us know how it goes.
Nailing the Decision Making Process
A third issue to consider is that often the decision making process isn’t clear. The leader believes she is getting input, and makes the decision based on that input. But the members of the group think they are making the decision. This sets up false expectations. When the leader makes a decision that is contrary to the input, the team doesn't understand. What they thought they supported, they don’t.
The antidote to this problem is to use a framework that we call the Levels of Involvement™. You can download the model here.
Using the Levels of Involvement helps you reflect on a variety of factors that influence the decision, so that you can choose to involve the appropriate people at the right level of input and influence. Its power comes from thinking through HOW it should be made, and WHO should be involved, before making the decision. It also helps you avoid consensus paralysis.
One of the most important things a leader can do is be transparent and explicit about how much or how little involvement she is seeking – so that expectations are realistic and confusion is minimized.
Breakdown Dead Ahead!
Now what about the decisions that break down outside the group, in the larger organization? Many business decisions are made by, or influenced by, a team - where people are representing the interests of constituencies inside or outside the organization. But these team members may not have the expertise or be fully equipped to represent these other group’s stakes. They may decide to implement something that isn’t feasible because of technical, legal, financial, or other barriers.
Sometimes people rush into a decision for expediency’s sake, but the decision can’t pass the reality test. If the leader or team members had checked in with the handful of people who had the needed expertise, they would have been able to represent these vital points of view and decide on a reasonable solution.
The challenge is that organizations - not just in Britain, but all over the world - are trying to build structures and processes that support faster decision making. Over-reliance on consensus slows things down; not to mention that it can drive everyone crazy! But common decision making structures built for speed don’t always accommodate badly-needed input. So a decision is made without that key input.
The solution here is for the group to know the options, define the problem, and agree on a certain few milestone points where it will check in with key stakeholders. These points should be built into an involvement map, so everyone knows when they’ll occur, who will be involved, and how the input will be used. These key input points should be predictable to everyone involved.
These simple, actionable methods are not a cure for every bad decision. But together they form a powerful way to move forward with confidence. They definitely increase the odds of making wise choices, knowing when agreements are made, and keeping decisions sticky, not squishy.
For more ideas on how to make good decisions, read "A Three-Pronged Approach to Change."
Published on 08/31/07 02:58 PM