Uncertainty has become a norm today. The world is moving at a pace that is hard for us to manage physiologically and the future is less predictable than we ever imagined it would be. Our history (including our successes) is less and less predictable. Based on these constantly changing conditions, how do we make timely and good decisions today? How do we deal with the fact that there is so much information available to us, changing so rapidly that we can’t possibly get all the data we sometimes want?
First, remain sensitive to the symptoms of poor decision making:
- Ideas and options have been discussed ad nauseum – they have been talked about, put on a ‘parking lot’, set aside, and keep popping up in meetings with no resolution or action taken
- Decisions get made with no discussion or data available – sometimes based on who talks the loudest or has the most seniority in the meeting
- Alternatives are ignored or risks are minimized beyond reason
- Meetings go on and on but there are no notes, no follow up and no actions taken as agreed
- Decisions get made but not communicated
- Decisions get made and changed, again and again for no apparent reason
- Facts or data are ignored because they are uncomfortable or ‘politically incorrect’ to discuss
- Same issues/opportunities/challenges keep coming up over and over
- There is never enough time to fully discuss something
Second, state your intentions and commit to making good decisions:
- Describe what a good decision looks like to you as a leader (this does not have to include lengthy or bureaucratic processes) – just a simple, “we will discuss the data available, examine alternatives, and review risks in a timely fashion…”
- Focus participants in decision making on exposing their thinking process: what data do they have, what does the data mean to them, what assumptions are they making and therefore what action(s) are they recommending
- Establish what criteria you will use for the decision (i.e. one criteria in purchasing is usually price). Don’t discount less quantifiable criteria such as customer service.
- Allow people to be heard no matter their level or expertise – great ideas and different perspectives often come from those who know less than the experts
- Compare your options to your definition of winning or excellence for your organization – does the ‘answer’ get you closer to your defined destination or not
Third and perhaps most importantly:
- Do the things you stated as your intentions above. Practice creates excellence and your words will mean little if your actions don’t align.
- Pretend there is a decision to be made when there isn’t. If there really are no options, there are no decisions.
- Make a decision and then change it after conversation with one person or if you get one piece of additional data without discussing it with all the people initially involved.
- Delay because you don’t have all the info – you probably never will
- Delay by second guessing yourself to death – get clear on whatever is stopping you from making the decision and discuss it. You might be surprised that others were thinking the same thing or even have an answer or data to address your concern.
- Hide decisions. It is better for people to know the truth than have to fill in the blanks guessing – they most often make up much worse stories than the real one.
Not knowing or not getting a decision is often times much worse than bad news or tough decisions. If you have ever worked in an organization that was in a holding pattern or had a boss that could not make decisions, you know firsthand how frustrating it can be. Whatever decisions you make, make them with the best data you can get, measured against criteria you have considered, with a good understanding of the advantages and disadvantages for whichever course your choose. Discuss and share them openly so everyone stays aligned and focused on winning.