Given the number of decisions that leaders must make every day, you would expect that through repetition and practice they would continue to take their decision-making capability to higher levels of proficiency.
But after working with more than 50 senior executive teams of Global 2000 companies, I've found it is one of the top areas of dissatisfaction for executive teams seeking higher performance. Few senior teams identify it as an area of true strength.
For example, teams don't trust their experts to do the diligence needed to define the issue they are trying to solve, collect the facts to frame the decision, and even lay out the alternative choices.
The confusion doesn't stop there. Teams often believe that making a strategic decision is voting together rather than thinking together.
It is amazing how many decisions have to be revisited because teams aren't clear on what was decided, who is responsible for executing the decision, and how exactly it will impact the business.
Don't worry...all is not lost. There is a better way. There is a decision-making process that blends the need to make fact-based decisions with the urgency to act, while tapping the immense knowledge of an executive team to make better decisions.
The decision-making process consists of eight steps that include identifying the following:
1. Who needs to make the decision?
The senior team needs to identify the exact criteria for determining which decisions they should make. It is very common to find a senior team that metaphorically uses zip lines to drop down one or two levels to make decisions they shouldn't be making or actually encourage decision escalation by not being clear on whether the decision should be made.
2. What exactly is the decision to be made?
Framing the exact decision that needs to be made sounds much simpler than it is. Each decision needs some refining to be sure the "root decision" is the focus of consideration and not four or five areas related to the decision.
3. Which team member is responsible?
A single member of the senior team should be responsible for presenting the decision that needs to be made, collecting all the data and relevant facts needed to make it, and be the single person answering clarifying questions or deferring to others.
4. What are the clarifying questions?
Nothing is more important than conducting a disciplined and rigorous first round of clarifying questions only that must be taken in turn. Many executives have to be corrected or asked, "Is that a question to enhance your understanding or a point of position?" This routine must be safeguarded at all costs and protected by all members of the team. The "thinking together" is created by listening, not telling!
5. What are the recommendations and concerns?
In the second round, each team member is given the opportunity to state his or her recommendation for the decision individually.
6. What is the senior team decision?
The senior team member states the decision that has been made based on the recommendations. He or she may revise the recommendations slightly to confirm with the group the best and most acceptable decision. If the group is split, ask what information is needed to better evaluate the decision and re-start the process.
7. What are the commitment and the ramifications of the decision for the senior team?
Most senior team decisions require everyone on the team to change their behaviors. Be very explicit in discussing the ramifications of the decision on the organization and the behaviors of the senior team.
8. How will we follow through with this decision and communicate it to all stakeholders?
Decide who is responsible for executing and supporting the decision, and what metrics will be used to track its successful implementation. The team must also decide how to communicate the decision, and to whom.
While these may seem like obvious steps, in the rust to get things done faster we often overlook the obvious and go straight for the quickest. Following these simple steps routinely will lead to better decisions that are executed properly and have positive results.