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Can’t Decide How to Decide? Here’s How – Part 2

Many leaders stumble when they need to make decisions. Some undermine team engagement by being too authoritative, thus endangering the quality of implementation. Others are so considerate to the feelings of others that decisions don’t get made at all or too slowly, or are dumbed down to the least objectionable compromise. Here we continue our series on How to Decide.

In a recent blog, I presented a partially tongue-in-cheek logic tree for how I approach decision making. Basically, I allow my judgment of the importance or materiality of the decision to determine how much time and effort to put into the decision making. However, while I stand by that as a sound method for entering the decision making process, it does not guide the actual decision making.

Here, I’ll present a framework for moving through the process of deciding for important, complex issues (as stated before, if it’s not important, just decide and move on). This framework builds from the book Decision Making by Alan J. Rowe for Harvard Business Essentials. I see seven key stages:
  • Frame the Issue: What is really at stake? How will we judge a successful outcome? Are we deciding what to recommend or what to implement?
  • Establish the Decision Infrastructure: Who should be involved, and of those, who can comment on which issues? When is the decision deadline? How will we decide – leader decides, issue owner decides after consulting with stakeholders, majority decides, unanimous consensus, or conditional decision (leader intervenes if group can’t reach consensus or majority)? Where shall we meet, and how often? Note: the Harvard book reverses these two points, but I believe it is not possible to build the correct Decision Infrastructure without knowing the Frame. In the end, one team may need to weigh in on Frame, another on the actual deciding.
  • Identify Alternatives: if there are not distinct options, then the decision is simply Go/No Go.
  • Evaluate the Alternatives: Financials, trade-offs, priorities, risk/reward… Decision criteria should be determined by the Frame.
  • Decide!
  • Communicate: Recognize contributions of all members, inform stakeholders, and explain rationale, implications, and requirements.
  • Implement: Harvard states this is not part of the decision process, but we disagree. A decision without an action plan that includes metrics, accountabilities, process, and priorities is a half-baked decision
Sound simple? Can be, and the benefits can be huge: build the top and bottom line, and increase stakeholder engagement, productivity, and the intangibles that weigh heavily on an organization’s value. But even tiny missteps can drop you into Management Hell: hurt the financials, undermine engagement, destroy the company.
We’ll continue this discussion in future posts.

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