There's a common belief in many fast-growing organizations that it's the speed of decision making that provides the business with its agility. I hear versions of "We can turn on a dime" in the halls of growing companies all the time.

At times, your ability to make decisions quickly can lead to agility, particularly in the early days of an endeavor. Say when you're launching a new product, new department or entirely new organization. 

The usefulness of this as a mantra for decision making breaks down with each new client you acquire, each new employee you hire, each new product you build. As you layer on complexity to a growing business decision making starts to become a two-part process; making the decision, and implementing it. When you're small and (truly) nimble, these are two sides of the same coin. As you grow, they become distinctly different processes. 

When you continue to push the philosophy of fast decision making in a more complex organization, you start to see that implementation slows. The reason is simple; you no longer have at your fingertips all the information you need to make a fully informed decision. And as such, when you toss the decision over the transom, it slows down.

The key to getting back to agility is to slow down the decision-making process. Not to the point that it becomes unbearable. Just enough to ensure that you when you move to implementation, you've considered all the key elements and people who will be involved. Here are three key inputs to- include in the decision-making process to help make that happen.

Key themes are more useful than one-off anecdotes

Stories help us make sense of a complex world. They allow us to cut through the noise and get to the signal, to illustrate how we got to where we are and to paint a picture of where we're going. Most entrepreneurial leaders are pretty good at sharing stories to make a point. 

The real usefulness in storytelling lies, however, when they're grouped together into narrative themes or patterns that have occurred. One story of an upset customer is likely not a good justification to overhaul your customer service process. But repeated stories.. of the same type of customer... being let down in the same way. Well, now you're on to something.

Next time you or someone in your team shares a story or example as part of a decision-making process, push them to see if there are patterns of behavior leading to the same output rather than making a decision based on a lone instance. 

Explore multiple interpretations of what the data is telling you

At the opposite of narrative lies data. Those cold hard facts and figures that can't be argued against. Except that we all know that data and figures can be manipulated to support almost any thesis we want. As such it's important to take the time to explore what the figures are really telling you in a broader context. 

To make that happen your leadership team needs to get well versed on the metrics that each department is bringing to the table. Rather than just depending on the analysis provided by the data bringer, those leadership teams who grapple with the meaning of information from a number of different angles tend to make higher quality decisions.

The next time you're reviewing key figures as part of your decision-making process. Have someone a little removed from the numbers share their interpretation and widen the discussion from there.

Don't ignore the role of emotion in your decision-making process

"When you come into this room, you leave your emotion at the door." How many times have you heard that as the basis for effective decision-making? What nonsense. What is this the 1950's? We are inherently emotional creatures. If your goal is to get alignment around the decisions you're making as a team then you need to find out how it impacts everybody involved.

I'm not saying that you have to go full kumbaya but at the very least take a temperature check on how your team is feeling about a particular course of action. At the end of the day, you are going to rely on them to implement the decisions you are making. How can you expect to help them work through that if you have no idea if they're feeling excited, scared, nervous, eager, upset or awesome?

The next time you're in a decision-making setting, take a few minutes to ask everyone how they feel. And when they say they feel good, ask them how they really feel! 

On their own, narrative, data and emotion are ineffective at helping you make well-informed decisions but if you slow down your decision-making process to incorporate all three of them, you'll quickly get back to faster implementation.

Published on: May 16, 2019
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