One of the more important models I have been exposed to is the concept of proactively applying principles to guide decision-making, particularly your most important decisions. From an execution perspective, it is often not as easy as it sounds. But the great thing about the model is the conversations and deep understanding implementation leads to. Aligning on the driving principles to be used helps you better understand the value system of your partners and tends to strengthen your relationships. Applying the principles as a guide helps moderate emotions from over influencing your final choice. An added bonus is it also leads to decisions that can be better defended when scrutinized by the public.
Here is the model as I learned it.
Seven Step Process
Define the Situation
I am always amazed by the different interpretations of a given situation. Everybody looks at the same challenge through his or her personal biases and training. For example, I tend to see every challenge through a branding lens because my career has been spent in that field and I’ve overdeveloped that perspective to the point it is now my default way of looking at the world.
- What are the facts?
- What are the issues?
- Who has the key information you need?
- What are the needs of the Community, the Organization and the individual?
Define the Stakeholders
Every important decision has an impact on a number of people or Organizations. Often a compromise or change is required based on the decision made. The one thing that seems to be a global truth is that people are resistant to change, even if it is in their best self-interest. There is an old saying – Never upset somebody unless it is on purpose. Identifying the primary stakeholders who will be affected by a decision you take allows you to better understand the full ramifications and avoid upsetting somebody by accident.
- Who are the stakeholders and what input will they have before a decision is made?
- Who will be directly or indirectly impacted by the decision?
- Who need to be involved in the decision so it will “stick”?
Determine the Guiding Principles
This is the part where you need to be consistent with your personal values as well as the Organization’s. The hard part is taking the time to be introspective and identify what you believe and why you believe it. In my experience not many managers have taken the time to articulate what their personal principles are, and yet it is so important to making wise decisions when the situation is difficult.
- What core values and principles apply to the specific situation?
- What is the Organization’s thinking/intent?
- What are the givens, laws or ethical considerations impacting the decision?
- What policies or precedents might apply?
- What is the intent of the policies (rather than just the words)?
Develop Possible Solutions
This is a divergent step intended to explore as many approaches to addressing the challenge as possible. The more robust the solution set, the greater likelihood of having a wise choice. In my experience, this step is always shortchanged because of the time it takes. People have a tendency to want to rush to a solution rather than explore as many reasonable approaches as possible. The result is missing out of the box solutions that might actually represent a breakthrough approach.
- Check options against the guiding principles.
- Assess the implications and impact of each option.
- Get the input of experts if needed to ensure a well rounded understanding on the feasibility of an option (don’t wing it) as appropriate.
Take a Decision
This is probably the hardest step because now you have to pick a direction to go. No more hiding behind analysis. It is now time to be accountable for the consequences of deciding to move forward. It is now time to earn your paycheck.
- Assess the possible solutions you’ve identified (pros/cons).
- Choose one.
Implement the Selected Solution
A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road. The Chicken says, “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”
The Pig replies, “Hmm, maybe, but what would we call it?”
The Chicken responds, “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”
The Pig thinks for a moment and says, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”
Implementation is all about being the pig. You’ve done a thorough job of understanding the implications of the choice you made. It is not a time for second-guessing or waffling. It is a time for decisive action and commitment.
- Create an action plan.
- Communicate your decision and the driving principles that apply.
- Enable the Organizations/people involved to make the required changes for success.
Accountability is important. Not every decision is 100% right, particularly when the challenge is complex. Blind adherence to a decision made is sometimes fatal. You need to monitor the implementation of your decision and course correct as required. That doesn’t mean abandon the decision you made, it means work to improve on the implementation.
- Did the decision achieve the expected results?
- What did you learn?
- How can the learning be reapplied?
- What else is required to achieve maximum benefit from the decision?
In my opinion, one reason decision-making is often hard because it is not done methodically. Many decisions are either from the hip or dictated by the senior leader in the room. To the extent that the challenge is simple, generally speaking past is prologue so no problem. The probability is the decision will be good enough and you can simple move to implementation. But, for new situations where the stakes are high and the impacts long-standing I believe a formal decision model can help avoid taking bad decisions and dramatically improve your odds of success.
Share Your thoughts?
What has your experience been in decision-making? Is there a model you have found to be useful in guiding choices? Do you have any examples of where a model has helped you make a better decision or has gotten in the way? What is your advice to others?
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