How To Successfully Make Tough Decisions

During your career there is a good chance you will be asked to make more than one challenging decision.  A decision where there is no obvious right or wrong, and the consequences of taking action are anything but trivial.   Let’s face it, leadership is tough; and many decisions require trade-offs.

Important decisions are often made even tougher because they involve people.  People who feel they are stakeholders in making the decision.  More often than not, their input (requested or unsolicited) can be more harmful than helpful unless you find a way to proactively manage it. Failure to do so can minimally dramatically slow decision making down and/or in the extreme case lead to a poor decision.  The question then is: How do you approach decision making in a way that ensures you get the benefit of sound counsel and helps stakeholders feel enrolled in whatever decision you make?

One tool I found exceptionally helpful to making the really challenging decisions is the PACE process.  Conceptually, it is simple.  From an executional perspective, it can be time consuming because it requires you to have some tough conversations up front to clarify stakeholder roles and responsibilities. But, when followed, the PACE process dramatically increases the degree of stakeholder enrollment in the final decision made.

PACE is all about stakeholder role definition.  It recognizes four key roles stakeholders play in making any decision. 

P stands for Process Leader. This is the individual who will facilitate the process and make sure an effective decision is made on time. The tasks involve making sure the right data is available, the right people are involved and in the right roles, communication is thorough, unresolved issues are escalated and options are credibly explored. This person is accountable for the quality of the inquiry before a decision gets taken.

A stands for Approval. This is the person (or people) who hold the final decision. Often this person will have the budget authority to operationalize the final decision. This is the person who assumes the risk if the decision is wrong and as a consequence should be given the benefit of all the data.

C stands for Contributor. This is a person who has information and/or experience relevant to making the decision. But, it is important to note, this person does not have veto or approval authority and does not need to agree with the final decision taken.

E stand for Execute. These are the people who need to be informed of the final decision and are responsible for taking action. They need to know what the decision is, why it was taken, and specifically what they need to do to execute it.

One of the biggest challenges in the PACE process is many people who are Contributors feel they are Approvers. If left unresolved, this misperception inevitably leads to unnecessary conflict. And, if the decision is unpopular it can lead to an effort to undermine execution from within. That is why it is so important to have to upfront conversation about roles and responsibilities so everybody involved has their expectations set appropriately. I have had to have these conversations and they are rarely easy. Your leadership skills will be tested. But, having role clarity upfront will lead to much better decisions being taken.

It is not uncommon for you (as the Approver) to play multiple roles. You can also be the Process Leader of the decision and be one of the Contributors by sharing relevant data and experience. It is important though to know which role you are playing at any point in the process and play it appropriately. For example, if you inappropriately wear your Approver hat during the data gathering and inquiry stage you will risk shutting down the involvement of other Contributors. It is critically important you remain self aware when you use the PACE process for it to succeed.

Don’t use the PACE process for every decision. It is time consuming and the conversations you will have can be challenging. Reserve its use for your most challenging decisions where the degree of process formality can be justified. When you opt to use it though, make certain you do it well. Don’t cut corners. If you follow this advice you will be pleased with the outcome.

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