Decision making is killing organisations

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I’d argue that in most organisations the biggest challenge isn’t how to launch in new markets, what new products to launch, how to grow your bottom line by 50%, or how to scale up your team. The biggest challenge is how to make decisions. This has a knock on consequence for all the things mentioned above, and more! Therefore, it makes sense to invest some time in understanding how to make decisions and what you might need to avoid.

There are three super common challenges when it comes to decision making:

1. Having too many people involved.

2. Not having enough people involved.

3. Getting the right people involved.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Having too many people involved

You’ll often hear prevailing wisdom like “two heads are better than one” or “many hands make light work” and these are certainly true in some instances but often these trite pieces of advice are applied carte blanche and organisations soon find themselves in a decision making stalemate. When too many people are involved in a decision and their role isn’t defined it can often lead to consensus being the default decision making model. And, building consensus is hard at times, especially when you’re building consensus for a decision that doesn’t actually require it.

Not having enough people involved

On the other hand, not having enough people involved in decision making can unnecessarily autocratic which isn’t always healthy (although it could be the best option for some decisions). Decisions that are made autocratically are often done so because speed is the most important factor. However, decision making can be done quickly in groups too as long as people understand how they contribute to the group decision making process.

Getting the right people involved

Sometimes, decisions just don’t have the right people involved. So, next time you make a decision it might be worth sense-checking do you have everyone you need to make the decision and make it successfully? Do the people around the table have the right motivations, context and authority needed to make the decision. This is especially prevalent in larger organisations that operate with traditional hierarchies or matrices. Decisions and discussions take place across multiple levels and layers and often when no consensus can be reached it gets ‘passed up’ a level. This means that decisions that don’t require it are often made by incredibly senior people.

Three top tips for getting better at decision making

Understand how to make the decision

The first thing you want to do is understand how this decision should made. Often we stumble into decision making without really considering how we should make it. How many times have you seen it before? A meeting lands in your diary with a vague title, no context in the invite and several other people that you know of but aren’t necessarily relevant to what you think the meeting is about. It’s pretty common, right? Certainly more so than we’d care to admit. The reality is that many decisions are taken extremely seriously but what’s not taken seriously is how the decision should be made.

The best tool out there is from NOBL - it’s called the decider app and you’ll basically answer a few questions about the type of decision you need to make and they’ll recommend a style of decision making (e.g. autocratic, consultative, avoidant, etc.) and give some tips on how to apply that style effectively.

Define the roles people will play in making the decision

Too many people are often involved in the decision making process because no-one is really sure of their role. How often do you hear “I’d like to get Mark’s opinion on this” or “You need to speak to Suzanne about this if you haven’t already - she’ll have some great insight”. Again, often these things are true…you can invite others into the process - but you need to do so with caution and with clarity on what their role should be. Are they part fo the final decision making body, or are they simply being consulted? It helps both you and them contribute to the decision effectively. I really like Bain’s RAPID model for assigning roles in decision making. It assigns people the role of:

R - recommender

A - agreer

P - performer

I - inputter

D - decider

You get assigned to a position on the RAPID and that’s the role you perform. Are you an agreer? Great - that means you need to ‘agree’ with the final decision - your views are really important and are reflected in the final decision. Are you an inputter? That means you may be sought out to give an opinion or perspective and it’s up to the team to decide whether or not that’s worth incorporating into the final decision.

Define what delegation, escalation and accountability means

Being able to articulate exactly how decisions get made and monitored is really important for people to feel confident and safe making decisions.

Delegation - typically flows ‘downwards’ in an organisation. Someone delegates a decision to another person/group. Good delegation provides clear boundaries for others to act within (e.g. you have authority to make spending decisions up to £10,000. More than that you need to speak to me for approval)

Escalation - typically flows ‘upwards’ in an organisation. Escalation can happen when decisions can’t be made, perhaps due to stalemate, or because it’s outside of someones delegated authority (e.g. I’m escalating this decision to you because both Mohammed and I can’t agree on the best way forward and it’s a critical decision. Can you help us?

Accountability - when it’s done well accountability flows in both directions. However, more often than not, it is used as a ‘stick’ to reprimand someone for what they haven’t done (e.g. I’m holding you to account on this poor performance). In better situations accountability is a two-way street that often requires conversations around performance and can include discussions on issues that have been delegated or escalated.

The bottom line

What’s been mentioned here are some useful tools and things to consider when making decisions but the bottom line really is that you should be making your decisions more consciously, don’t just think about the decision end point. Instead think about how you get to that decision and you’ll often get there with less friction and more quickly than you thought.

If you want to discuss any further you can drop a comment below, join the discussion on Instagram or get in touch directly!

Happy decision making!