9 Keys to More Effective Decision Making

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on  Unsplash

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

When it comes to the outcomes in our personal and professional lives, there is basically no factor more important than the decisions we make, or fail to make. Our decisions are at the root of almost every experience we have, both good and bad. While our starting points may differ, our decisions are what set things in motion and initiate behaviors that will become habits that deliver the results we produce. That being the case, it would make sense for us to approach our decisions as effectively as possibly, but unfortunately, in many organizations especially, that is not the case.

Despite the immense importance of decision making and the effects they have on our results, many organizations suffer from many easily preventable issues, such as the following, at great cost to their results and morale:

  • Lack of clarity on how to make decisions

  • Indecisiveness

  • Poor communication of decisions

  • The belief that everyone should have a vote on everything

  • Unnecessary, inefficient escalation of decisions to the higher levels of the organization

In today’s post, I’d like to offer you 9 tips for improving decision making effectiveness in your organization. I believe if you internalize these tips and share them with others in your organization, in no time, you’ll be making better decisions in a timely manner, reducing the frustration associated with indecisiveness, people feeling excluded or uninformed, and resistance to ideas that aren’t communicated properly.

As with most of the work that I do, rather than go over a generic “to-do list,” I’m going to point out a few hidden saboteurs of decision making in the hopes that you will be able to recognize them and get them out of the way when they inevitably show up.

1. Get clear on who the “Decision Maker” is –
This is a big one. If you can clear up the ambiguity about who is going to make the final decision, then you have already won half the battle. Often people are waiting for someone else to make the decision, while at the same time others are waiting for them to do so. Other times, however, people bravely take it upon themselves to make a decision, only to “get their hand slapped” for over-stepping their bounds…even though the bounds were never clearly defined to begin with! So, invariably, either a decision is made by the wrong person and has to be reworked, or it is delayed while we are waiting for each other to decide who is going to decide!

Most of us have bosses and peers, and some of us have people who report to us, but people’s rank and where they are on the organizational chart is not always a great way indicator of who is supposed to make a certain decision. On numerous occasions in my own operations, I have had people who “worked for me” officially designated as the “decision maker,” because they were more informed and experienced in a certain area than I was, and I made sure they knew it. On the flip side, there are certain decisions that should not be put to a democratic vote, and should be reserved for those in more senior positions. Regardless of the situation, what matters most is that there is clarity about who is doing what.

Next time you feel there is any ambiguity about who is supposed to be making a decision, address that issue head-on with the parties involved to get aligned on answers to these questions:

a. Who will be responsible for making the final decision?

b. Who are the people who will be responsible for making sure the decision maker has the pertinent information relevant to their decision?

c. Who are the people who need to be informed of the decision once it is made, so they can participate in carrying out the corresponding actions?

For those in more senior positions who are worried that inordinate weight will be given to their opinion or they will be defaulted to as the decision maker, I can help with that. One of my old bosses had a great way of making sure he didn’t get in the way of any decision making. He would always tell us which of the following categories his suggestions fell in:

a. Input – He wanted us to consider it, but it was our choice to act on it or not, without any explanation needed.

b. Recommendation – He wanted to us to seriously consider it and if we chose to go in a different direction, we would need to provide an explanation.

c. Direction – This meant he was taking on the mantle of “decision maker,” and although we were free to try to influence him, in the end, final authority on this decision rested with him and it was our task to follow through on whatever the final outcome was.

2. Don’t set false expectations of total democracy –
I would highly encourage you to get as much input as needed but be sure everyone understand their role in the process. Everyone should get a say, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should necessarily always get a vote. Decisions should be made by those who are the most informed, experienced, and/or responsible, and not everyone in the organization is equally informed, experienced, and responsible. Let people know when they all have a vote, but also be clear when the situation calls for a few decision makers to make the call.

3. Make sure decision makers have both responsibility and authority
If you give people the responsibility for the outcome of the decision, give them the appropriate authority to make, or at least influence, the decision. If you ask for the authority to make the decision, you must be willing to accept the responsibility for the outcome. If someone is requesting one without the other, then they aren’t ready to be making decisions that can impact others in the organization.

4. Beware of how much weight you give to the first information you’re given –
We tend to be disproportionately influenced by the first few pieces of information we get. Then, once we are leaning a certain way, we tend to look for more evidence that we are right. These tendencies are so common that we have terms for them: anchoring bias and confirmation bias. The way to attempt to treat all input equally is to actively seek out evidence to the contrary of the position you hold, and see what you get before committing to a certain decision. When asking for input, ask open-ended questions and be careful not to sway people to give you the answer you want to hear, as opposed the information you actually need.

5. After enough time, delaying a decision becomes a decision in itself –
There are times when it is prudent to delay a decision to seek further information. But if you are avoiding and delaying the decision when there is an urgent need, then deciding to delay becomes the equivalent of deciding to maintain the status quo.

6. Make future-based decisions
Be careful about input or decisions that justify past choices. No matter what the sunk cost may be, the decision should be made based on the actions that need to be taken to move forward to achieve the desired outcome, rather than digging ourselves deeper into the hole that we shouldn’t have started digging in the first place. Be willing to completely abandon approaches that aren’t working, or else you may hinder the power of even the most effective decisions you make. Looking in the rear-view mirror is useful at times, but there is a reason the windshield a whole lot bigger. If you want to move forward, you should be looking forward, rather than backward, most of the time.

7. Are you fixing a problem or creating a desired future?
All great problem solvers and project managers are trained to efficiently address issues. Some solve the problem down to the root cause and some merely address the symptoms. Either way, however, it is important to always consider what outcome we are looking to create, rather than just focusing only on what current issue we are trying to address. Remember that eliminating the negative does not automatically ensure that the positive will ensue, and proceed accordingly.

8. Differentiate between strategic, tactical, and operational decisions
The time horizon and the scope of the information you should consider for each type of decision is different. Don’t make long-term decisions based on a focus on the immediate crisis at hand, and don’t make short-term decisions that are meant to address long-term issues. The same goes for decisions based on local issues as opposed to systemic ones. Use your discretion to keep the appropriate context in mind with whatever decision you are making.

9. Let your head and the heart do their jobs –
If you lean toward your head too much, you’ll end up with analysis paralysis and you won’t pay attention to the qualitative impacts of your decisions. If you lean the other way too much, you’ll make too many “gut feel” decisions based on your emotions while ignoring the facts. Use the head and the heart together, and you will have the right balance. If your natural tendency is to lean one way or another, ask others around you to let you know when you’re falling back into your default mode.

These are just a few tips I have picked up to help make your decision making more effective, but this list is certainly not exhaustive. To ensure that these changes really stick, you need to implement a comprehensive plan to transform your entire organization, and my free guide to transforming your culture is as good a place to start as any. I’d also love you hear your tips and tricks for more effective decision making, or stories of decision making gone wrong, in the comments below.

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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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