By Dan Weinheimer, Routt County, Colorado
I doubt my organization is much different from many of yours but we have a problem -we cannot make decisions. This lack of decisiveness is a problem to be sure, unless you have a problem with that and we can talk more about it at our next meeting… or just ignore this topic and put it away in a desk drawer until we both forget about it.
Where I work, we usually make one of three types of decisions:
- We make a decision that people hate
- We don’t make a decision (for fear of making people mad)
- We undermine a decision that we hate
Some people who have worked in an organization a long time have established an owner’s mentality on process and procedure. They use decision-making (or the lack thereof) to sustain their ownership. These are the people who prefer status quo to change so they probably assume that they can raise hell to keep a decision that they’ll hate from being made, then they look to decision style #3 (undermining) to assure no implementation. This is a vicious cycle that locks an organization in limbo… but we can talk about that next meeting.
What can we do to make a better decision (or make one at all)? I have a copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s book Decisive at my desk and try to refer to it for some simple tips. It’s helpful to identify obstacles to the decision-making process including your own biases, needs and information processing preferences.
The Heath’s describe “four villains” of decision-making:
- Narrow Focus – seeing the visible but missing out on information just out of our frame
- Confirmation bias – too quickly locking in on a solution as the only way forward
- Emotional investment – too emotionally invested in the decision/outcome to appropriately act
- Overconfidence – assume we know more than we actually do and jump to conclusions
I like a good acronym (it is government after all) and the Heath’s use WRAP to counteract the above-mentioned “villains”.
1. Widen your options – do not make binary decisions of “this or that”; think AND not OR
2. Reality-test your assumptions – ask yourself dis-confirming questions
3. Attain distance before deciding – try asking yourself what you’d recommend someone else do or reflect on how this decision matches your core priorities
4. Prepare to be wrong – set tripwires in order to assure you focus on the right moments and actions
Obviously, the decision-making process is influenced significantly by the gravity of the choices you’re making – let’s be honest though, most of our workday choices are not life or death. There is ample literature on steps to effective decision-making that recommends gathering the right information and options, weighing alternatives, having the right people in the room, and evaluating a decision during implementation.
A process is fantastic! I think the challenge is coming to consensus on how an organization will make its decisions. Others have to buy in so that you’re evaluating options in a similar way and so that choices are expanded beyond “this or that” decision-making. Broad success of implementing a decision framework has to do with the pace of change acceptable to your workplace, the data and information available, and the clarity of direction both for where you are all going and who has authority to execute.
It is your responsibility to expand these areas by encouraging more data collection and use, constantly watching for opportunities to clarify or sum up meetings, and assigning specific tasks and individuals to implement decisions.