As a leader, you’re faced with dozens of decisions every day. These might range from relatively small, tactical decisions to strategic ones that impact the entire organization.
How you navigate the decision-making process depends on the situation at hand — you may delegate it to other individuals or teams, or determine that the responsibility falls squarely on your own shoulders. Yet with so much already on your plate, finding the best way to move through the decision-making process can be harder in practice than theory.
In this article, we break down the reasons why decision-making is equal parts challenging and essential for leaders and managers, plus provide tactics to streamline the managerial decision-making process.
The value of well-informed, outcome-driven decision making is self-evident for management and leadership teams. Effective decisions are not only critical to future business success, but they also elicit trust, productivity, and commitment among leaders, middle managers, and employees. However, even though it is widely accepted that effective decision-making is important, a survey from McKinsey found that only 20% of respondents believe their organization excels in this area.
The same study found that 68 percent of middle managers surveyed believe most of their decision-making time is inefficient, while 57 percent of C-level executives report the same.
Both statistics point toward a growing team effectiveness challenge for organizations across verticals, regions, and sizes: in today’s high-speed business environment, leaders are struggling to delegate, make, and commit to high-quality decisions faster. According to research by Gallup, just 14% of managers strongly agree they are satisfied with the speed of decision-making, and the consensus is that most organizational decision-making is not working — even though decision-making is at the core of organizational effectiveness.
That begs the question: How do you involve the right stakeholders, stay focused on the high-level vision, and empower a delegated task force at the speed that today’s businesses demand? The key is developing a decision-making framework that helps you diagnose the decision in front of you and maps out the best strategy, people, and timeline to move forward quickly. Let’s take a closer look.
Leaders face a broad spectrum of decisions — some small, some large — and the diversity of problems that need solving only further complicates matters. Clearing out your decision “queue” requires you to first understand the type of decision you face.
Often, evaluating the decision type is an exercise of asking and answering the right questions. Start by considering:
Once you have answered these questions, the next step is to determine your decision-making approach. Typically, you’ll need to think through the amount of knowledge you have (or lack) on the subject, the stakeholders who should be involved, who the decision will impact, and whether you need to be the decision-maker (or can delegate the responsibility to another capable individual or team).
With that in mind, here are a few worthy decision-making approaches to add to your leadership toolkit.
Use this approach when you already have the clarity/knowledge to make the best decision. Make a decision with little or no input, then announce the decision to those who will be affected by, or must carry out the decision.
Use this approach when others may have insight to help you better understand the issue. Ask selected individuals or teams for input (ideas, suggestions, information) and then make a decision after weighing all input.
Use this approach when you require and value input from everyone in the group, and commitment from the entire group is needed to move forward with the decision. A consensus decision is one that each member of the team is willing to support and help implement. Everyone in the group has an opportunity to give their opinion and to understand the implications of various options. All members, including the leader, are a part of the conversation and have the same power to support or block proposals.
Use this approach when there is an opportunity to develop an employee’s leadership capabilities and/or to establish someone in a position of authority. Define the decision that needs to be made, clarify the constraints on the decision, and delegate it to a specific individual or group. Then, don’t alter their decision as long as it adheres to the constraints.
As with all organizational shifts, it’s important for management teams to lead both the business and the people through their decision. Organizations are made of the humans who work for them, and when you leave them behind, you risk creating an environment where your people don’t understand — or take action — toward the bigger picture.
You can start by involving your team in the decision-making process and instilling team members with an inquiry mindset — which takes a problem-solving, collaborative approach rather than a mindset that regards decision-making as a contest — so everyone feels psychologically safe and empowered to think critically and feel their perspectives are welcomed and valued.
At a minimum, assembling a cross-discipline forum during the decision-making process will go a long way to ensure that your choice is informed by a diverse opinion set, tested against biases, and valued by leadership and deliverable teams alike. According to a study by software company Cloverpop, diverse teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time and deliver 60 percent better results.
Additionally, it’s helpful to clarify roles and responsibilities of all decision-making participants, confirm that the decision you are making aligns with your company purpose and core values, and think through the likely impact of your decision and plan for contingencies.
It’s equally important to have a firm understanding of how you plan to communicate the change to a wider audience so that it’s well understood and received.That’s where having the right internal communications strategy comes into play. To have the greatest effect, your communications approach should consider:
It’s easy to think of decisions as an isolated event — a single pinpoint in your organization’s larger journey. But a successful decision often asks us to go beyond this inflection point to evaluate the outcomes of the decision (and, if necessary, adjust accordingly).
Large decisions, especially, will require benchmarking to capture their complexities and monitor success. Do your best to identify relevant KPIs that are easily trackable, and be sure to communicate who is responsible for evaluating what in the wake of the decision. Now is also the time to develop a timeline. If your strategic planning proves successful, when do you expect to see results? In the event that your key indicators point to less-than-optimal performance, when should you hold another meeting to rethink your choice?
As with any significant disruption to the status quo, be sure to align any adjustments with clearly envisioned change and communications strategies to help your employees deal with the shift.
The most effective, empowered leaders are the ones who not only think about the decision itself, but also the decision-making process — by considering who will be impacted and who needs to be involved.
To better understand how to develop decision-making frameworks that foster collaboration, timely results, and improved outcomes, explore our Decision Making Workshop today. In it, we address how to accelerate decision-making results, solicit feedback from the right people (at the right time), rally your organization around your decision, and more.