BIV Boardroom Strategy: How to make better decisions faster

[read time: 5 mins]

Very rarely do I hear from CEO’s and executives who are worried they will not be able to plot a strategy that makes sense for their company. More often than not, their greatest challenge lies in execution of the plan. One of the core issues in execution that holds back progress is ineffective decision making systems that result from a limited understanding of how decisions are made, who has the ability and responsibility to make decisions and what criterion is being used to make those decisions.

The ability to make clear, definite decisions in a timely fashion can be the difference between leading and lagging the competition. If key people in your organization are in decision paralysis what effect is that having on overall progress? Can you afford the extra time it’s taking to make decisions in your competitive industry?

So what can you do about it? Take a good look at how your decision-making culture might be slowing down the execution of your strategic plan by starting to understand which of these common blocks may be holding you back from making timely decisions:

A general fear of making the wrong decision. Are people hesitant to make a decision for fear that it might not be the best one? Help remove the fear of making the wrong decision (which typically leads to analysis-paralysis) by encouraging a norm of being solution-focused – let people know that there is more than one way to do most things and, although it’s important to understand why something went wrong when it does, how problems are handled is what’s most important. If a decision turns out to be the “wrong” one, help people move quickly into solutions instead of blame or apathy.

Over-concern for other people’s feelings. Leaders with a high concern for relationships tend to avoid making decisions that might cause discontent. Help people balance their relationships with their co-workers and what’s best for the company by working with them to look at the cause and effect of their decisions on the organization as a whole, and putting a focus on clear, honest communication about what’s to come.

A lack of clarity around who is responsible for making decisions. From unclear lines of reporting and authority to haste when leaving weekly team meetings, consider how leaders in your company may be slowing down decision making and, in turn, execution of your plan, by leaving teams of people unclear about who is responsible to make the decisions required to move specific projects forward.

The people responsible for outcomes do not have the autonomy they need. Take a look at your plan, noting who is responsible for executing your most important initiatives. Then, consider if those people have the autonomy they need to make the decisions required to get the job done, and more importantly, if they understand that they have the autonomy to do so. It’s difficult to make decisions in a timely fashion when you are expected to get approval every step of the way.

The executive leadership team is not leading by example. Leading by example around decision-making is key. Do you stick by the decisions you make, do you hold it together when things don’t go as planned and look to solutions instead of blaming and focusing on what went wrong? Do you allow people the autonomy to make important decisions and coach them and support them to do so? People are looking to the leadership team for cues on what’s expected of them, so make sure you “walk-the-talk” by modeling the behavior you want to see from others.

People simply do not understand how to evaluate options and make a decision. Help people become more confident at making decisions by offering them an empowerment framework  (http://tinyurl.com/empowerdecisions) to help guide them to make decisions that are consistent with the goals and values of the organization.

Not taking the time to clarify how decisions are going to be made. One of the best ways to improve decision-making across your organization is to be clear upfront about “how” decisions will be made. There are four distinct decision making styles that are active in most organizations. By clarifying in advance which style is appropriate for the decision at hand, leaders, teams, and individual contributors can feel empowered to act quickly and effectively. Here are the four different styles:

  • Autocractic (decide and tell): As the leader, decide unilaterally and announce your decision to your team or the company overall. Ask for whomever you are communicating with to repeat back their understand of what you have said to make sure you have been clear.
  • Consultative (decide after consultation or recommendation): Pull together as much information as possible from key people before making the decision, then once you have made your mind up get reactions prior to making final decision.
  • Team (followers share in the decision): There are three ways to have a team in involved in a decision: Majority vote where the leader has one vote and gives up veto power, consensus where everyone has to agree after a discussion, and consensus with a silver bullet where the leader will most likely work with consensus but maintains the power to veto the decision.
  • Delegation (delegate the decision with clear parameters): Delegate the decision. Be clear about parameters of freedom. Ask the team or individual to paraphrase the decision so you know you have been clear upfront.

Speeding up and improving the quality of decisions made throughout your organization has a profound effect on the ability to take on greater strategic challenges and opportunities. Share this column with your senior team and key leaders as a way of framing a conversation around what’s getting in the way of decision making in your organization.

PDF of original column in Business in Vancouver, August 2-8, 2011

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