We don’t spend much time in our careers or inside our organizations deliberately developing our decision-making skills.

That’s too bad.

Whether contributor or manager, we’re mainly in the decision-making business.

Nothing happens without a decision.

Nothing good happens without the right decision.

We get ahead because someone trusts us to make good decisions with the organization’s resources.

As we rely on groups and teams to drive our initiatives, they march and succeed or flail and fail based on their decisions.

This is important. It’s also under-served.

Five Questions that Will Help You Strengthen as a Decision-Maker

Effective decision-making demands discipline and process. A good starting point is asking yourself and your team some key questions. Start with these:

1. What problem are we trying to solve?

Don’t assume you are either trying to solve the right problem or that everyone agrees on what the problem is in front of them. The return-on-time-invested (ROTI) here is fabulous.

A great resource: Dan Markovitz’s book, The Conclusion Trap. Also, check out my podcast interview with Dan.

2. Are we solving the right problem?

How you frame a problem drives the solution set. In another great resource, What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve” Thomas Wedell-Weddellsborg describes the classic case of The Slow Elevator.

If you framed the issue solely as “Our elevator is too slow,” then your solution set would likely focus on ideas to attempt to speed up the current elevator or replace it with a faster one. Alternatively, if you framed the issue as “The wait seems too long,” your solution set expands to generating ideas to distract individuals from the long wait. Some mirrors or television with the latest stock prices or sports scores are likely a lot less expensive than replacing the elevator.

Teach your teams to frame and then reframe problems as part of their normal process.

Check out my podcast interview with Thomas Wedell-Weddellsborg.

3. What do we need to know?

It’s routine to review the facts in a situation but less so to dig into assessing what needs to be known before a decision can be made. I love using the question “What do we need to know?” as part of the process to slow down the rush to judgment. This question challenges team members to dive deeper into the data looking for gaps. It’s simple but powerful.

4. What are the assumptions we’re making about our preferred solution?

Too often in decision-making processes, we apply loose filters to our assumptions. Be deliberate about describing each of your assumptions and assessing them for the 3R’s: risk, reasonableness, and reality.

Spend time unpacking the assumptions, and you’ll regularly uncover the biases and potentially flawed thinking underlying your solution. As needed, review the above questions and strive to develop new solutions.

5. If our preferred solution isn’t an option, what will we do?

Throwing away the top solution challenges you and your team to rethink the problem and the universe of options. It’s easy for groups to get lazy with this question, so I like to use an objective facilitator who holds the team accountable to fresh thinking. While you might ultimately return to the original solution, I regularly observe groups developing superior solutions with this second round.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Invest time with those five key questions, and you will add rigor, creativity, and accuracy to your decision-making activities. While it might sound onerous to pause and invest the time, this fits the adage everyone who has ever tried to build something has learned the hard way, “Measure twice, cut once.” Yes, it’s true, sometimes you have to slow down to move faster. Check out my article: Leadership Caffeine: Here’s Where You Need to Slow Down to Move Faster.

One More Tip—Eliminate Swirl from Group Discussions

Think about every group problem-solving effort you’ve been a party to in your career. They are typically a swirl of emotions, opinions, and agendas. Use a process to control the discussion and focus the group’s gray-matter. Check out my article: Better Design for Workplace Discussions

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You are as valuable to your team, boss, and organization as you can make effective decisions. While career success is an outcome of various issues, your ability to make good decisions as a contributor and team member is more equal than other factors. There’s something about your reputation as an effective decision-maker that makes it easy to give you more.

Art's Signature