Less AND Better

Increased responsibility comes with increased decision making—both in number and in importance of decisions. Earlier in our career, we were rewarded for the making decisions that approached perfect logic and rationale. Because we had less to do (really) and because fewer people were waiting on us to make these decisions, it may have been a reasonable luxury to take the latitude to double- and triple-check the logic and the data-driven basis of decisions. Early in our career the quality of decisions alone was the basis of differentiating employees.

However, as the volume and complexity of decisions increases, this luxury of time is no longer available–even though it would appear that more time is exactly what is needed to make these higher impact decisions. The basis of differentiating managers shifts toward the speed of decisions–but not to the exclusion of quality.

Given our previous experience that making the best decisions was key, combined with the increased importance of these decisions, managers run the risk of taking even more time to make decisions–which to the observer looks like grinding to a halt.

Decision-making-slow-down can have several sources:

We are afraid to be wrong. It can be an inherent belief that to be wrong is a weakness. It can be a fear that others will realize we don’t know what we are doing. It’s easy to suggest, and too hard to do, that one learn to just overcome the fear of risk. Confidence comes with validation.

We are logical thinkers. Technical experts are trained to use hard data for decision making. Even those who claim to make “gut-decisions” use data of some sort, but they just aren’t as aware of what that data might be. For others, the source, type and analysis of the data needs to be more clear. The gut is probably not a tool with which you are very comfortable.

It can be habit. We’ve always had plenty of time, and we believe time is the key to good decisions. Additionally, we hold a lifelong belief that more data is always better. The truth is better data is better. The better the data, the less of it we need.

As the decisions become more abundant and more important, we need ways to make decisions with less and better data. The following actions are an attempt to improve the quality of the data, reduce the options, and provide a framework to boost confidence.

  1. Write down 3-4 pre-existing company goals or priorities that will be impacted by the decision. Focusing on what is most important will guide your options; improve the quality of your final, and help in persuading others.
  2. Write down at least three, but ideally four or more, realistic alternatives. It might take a little effort and creativity, but no other practice improves decisions more than expanding your choices.
  3. Write down the most important information you are missing that would allow you to more easily choose from among the alternatives. Focus on getting that information. We too often risk ignoring what we don’t know because we are distracted by what we do know.
  4. Write down the impact your decision will have one year in the future. Telling a brief story of the expected outcome of the decision will help you identify what is really important in the decision. This step often also helps reduce anxiety by keeping the impact of your decision in proper perspective.
  5. Involve two to six stakeholders. Getting more perspectives reduces your bias and increases buy-in — but be aware that bigger groups have diminishing returns on your decision-making.
  6. Write down what was decided, as well as why and how much the team supports the decision. Writing these things down increases commitment and establishes a basis to measure the results of the decision.
  7. Schedule a decision follow-up in one to two months. We often forget to check in when decisions are going poorly (or well), missing the opportunity to make corrections and learn from what’s happened. (Knowing when to change course is another important skill.)

Less time; more decisions; more important decisions. Regardless of your methods, be aware of your decision-making process and be aware as to whether your process and methods address the requirements of your current role, and not past one.

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If you enjoyed this article, check out Decisive by The Heath Brothers for a more detailed decision-making plan.