image of a coffee cupNothing happens without a decision. Nothing good happens without the right decision. And, in case you doubt the need to focus on making better decisions, spend some time skimming the news.

If you’ve kept up with your health and fitness resolutions thus far this year, you know that even minor adjustments in diet and exercise pay big dividends. The same goes for our individual and group decision-making approaches.

A bit of deliberate effort to strengthen the decision-process goes a long way towards minimizing or mitigating the impact of personal and group biases. Translation, this might just keep you out of those less than flattering headlines in the news.

At Least 5 Questions We Need to Ask Our Teams Before They Decide:

1. “How are we going to make this decision?”

2. “What data do we need to objectively evaluate our options?”

3. “Before we decide, how can we frame this issue in neutral terms?”

4. “What would someone who doesn’t have history with this issue say about it?”

5. “If we were starting a business today, would we invest in this?”

While there are many and varying forms of decision-making traps and nearly countless combinations of cognitive biases that impact our discussion processes, the introduction of and follow-thru on these simple but important questions can clear much of the fog out of the way. 

Improve Discussion Quality to Improve Decision-Making Effectiveness:

In working with under-performing management and project teams, one of the critical factors in improving results is in improving the quality of the discussions surrounding key decisions. Use the 5 questions above to strengthen processes and improve the quality of the dialogue and analysis.

Create a process to decide. The act of asking and then developing a process to decide is a powerful step in the right direction. This imposes both accountability and serves as a process guide to corral our all-too-frequent wide-ranging, overlapping and chaotic, emotion-packed dialogue around big issues.  Another good practice for teams working on strengthening decision-making effectiveness, is for them to follow the “how should we” question with “What traps might impact our process here?” (See my related posts links below for more on this topic.)

Cut Through the Data Smog. Data is plentiful in today’s organizations, yet we tend to anchor on data that supports our perspectives and dismiss data as flawed when it refutes our case. Challenge the team to think through data needs…and particularly to evaluate confusing correlation with causation…or to avoid sampling on the dependent variable. And of course, don’t forget that in spite of massive advances in business intelligence and analytics software, the quality of the data should always be scrutinized before accepting it as gospel.

Frame for Fun and Profit. Positioning a situation as a gain or loss absolutely biases solution development. Spend time to carefully frame issues…and work to frame them as neutral if possible. Another approach is to invoke F. Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim that, “the sign of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  Consider framing the issue in different ways and developing solution sets based on those frames.

“Tell me again about your assumptions.” Always invite an outsider in for the big decisions. Someone who has no skin in the outcome can offer the candid perspective so often lacking in our politically turbocharged discussions. Instead of the tame or lame Devil’s Advocate, invite someone in and listen carefully if they tell you that your baby is really ugly.

Let’s Not Escalate this Commitment! Many of our issues resolve around past decisions and whether to carry on or not. Follow the above suggestions and ask and consider the very critical question of, “If we were starting a business today, would we invest in this?” If the answer is “no” put a stake in it. And remember, that the money you spent is a sunk cost…it’s gone. Beware the “with more time and money” discussions.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

This is a big topic with big implications for your firm and for your career. However, the best way to eat an elephant is still one bite at a time.

Starting today, teach your teams to strengthen their decision-making processes by asking the annoyingly appropriate questions highlighted above. Remember, we want to keep you and your firm out of the headlines…at least when it comes to lousy decisions.  And the last time I looked, most bosses bestow things like responsibility, money and authority on those who they trust to make good decisions.

Deciding whether to put effort forth to improve how to decide may be the only “no-brain” decision you’ll encounter today.

Related Posts:

Management Excellence Toolkit, Part 1: Create a Decision Journal

Management Excellence Toolkit, Part 2: Mind the Decision Traps

Management Excellence Toolkit, Part 3: How to Frame Your Decisions for Success

Management Excellence Toolkit, Part 4: Improve Your Estimating and Forecasting Effectiveness

Management Excellence Toolkit: Better Design for Workplace Discussions