There are two ways that companies can come to a big decision. When an employee has a great idea, some businesses can turn it into action quickly. Others, however, need to turn the idea into a presentation, vote on it by committee, clear it with executives, subject it to focus groups, and take other time-consuming steps.
If you can't make a decision within a timely manner, something is wrong with you, says Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting. In Harvard Business Review, he calls a needlessly drawn-out decision-making process a "decision spin," which is caused by factors other than too much red tape. "Decisions bounce around the company, from group to group, up and down the hierarchy and across the matrix, their details and consequences changing as different stakeholders weigh in. Often, the underlying problem isn't an inability to make decisions--it's a tendency to avoid conflict," he writes.
Ashkenas says that leaders and managers all suffer from the human desire to be liked. That means when a big decision needs to be made, some leaders don't want to make an unpopular decision and put it off to avoid dissension. As a result, they lack the skills to constructively manage conflict due to lack of practice.
Not only is decision spin frustrating for everyone involved, it comes with a big financial loss. For example, not being able to select one department for a budget cut this year means every department, especially the ones with growth potential, get hurt.
Below, check out Ashkenas's suggestions to break out of the spin cycle.
Address the spin
Ashkenas says if you want to cut the time it takes for your company to decide on important issues, you need to start by admitting to each other it's a serious problem and costs the team money. "If it is [a real issue], discuss some real examples, how they played out, and the consequences for the company," he writes. "Consider whether these are isolated instances or part of a recurring pattern, and what the payoff might be to reduce some of the spin. The key here is to avoid abstractions and build some awareness and alignment about the need to make improvements."
Once you all agree decision spin has no place in your company, develop rules for constructive conflict management. "These might include giving everyone two minutes to share his or her views; appointing someone to write down pros and cons of an issue; reminding everyone that disagreements are not personal attacks; setting a time limit for debates; or agreeing that decisions don't get changed unilaterally," he writes. "Obviously, this is not the same as full-blown conflict management training, but it's a way to get started--and if you experience some success, it could create the readiness for additional developmental work."