In last months column, I discussed techniques for making high-quality decisions, but the volume of decisions you make for your business is also highly important. Good decisions and the associated actions move your company forward, so more is better … until you reach the capacity to execute them. Also consider that some opportunities and decisions have inherent time constraints and you need to have the organizational capacity to deal with them before they expire.
So how can you increase your companys capacity to make decisions?
The first tip is to get those small decisions out of the way quickly and efficiently. Small decisions are those which will have minor impact regardless of the decision made. If you have a lot of these decisions coming your way, ask yourself why – and work to delegate more of these to lower levels in your organization. Perhaps they are coming to you because your people do not feel trusted or supported enough; if so, this issue needs to be dealt with as it is evidence of a broader problem that will affect your overall team performance.
Getting small decisions out of the way and off your desk clears up space and frees up your mental capacity to deal with more and bigger decisions.
Another useful tactic is to consider this: Does the decision you are facing deserve the one-hour answer, the one-week answer, or the one-month answer? Dont invest more time and energy than is merited by the issue. I am talking here not only about smaller issues but also those which are bigger but relatively clear-cut, or which can be analyzed with relatively little information.
Also before you take on a decision, ensure the timing is right. There is no point in taking on the work of making the decision if you are unprepared to see it through. Think about whether the organization is ready for this decision and how it rates versus other organizational priorities. Can and will you resource the outcome? If not defer the project until the time is right.
Determine too whether you are trying to tackle an organizational sacred cow. If so, make sure it is worth it as this type of decision is bound to be difficult to sell and hard to implement. If higher levels will need to approve resources for the project, take time to test the project concept with those higher levels to make sure they can see their way to support it.
Consider carefully the decision process. Few things are more frustrating than a decision which is made and then revisited multiple times due to lack of understanding or belief in the outcome. Be clear on who is making the decision and the consultation process. If it is a big decision, appoint a team leader and commit appropriate resources to get the job done. Together, set a sensible timeline for the decision. Check in with the team at reasonable intervals to see how they are progressing and whether it feels like they are on the right track. If the decision is ultimately going to affect a wide swath of the organization, ask the team about how they are getting input and addressing it.
If you are bringing a recommendation to a decision maker or group of decision makers, keep in mind that the time of day and physical condition can affect peoples ability and willingness to make decisions. Interesting work done by a researcher studying judges at parole hearings in Israel found that people were much more likely to be paroled by the judge if the hearing was conducted in the morning. Hearings brought before the judge late in the day rarely resulted in parole. This research underscores the concept of decision fatigue; e.g. people have only so much capacity to make decisions. When they reach a certain point, they will shut down and take the default decision or one in which there is little or no risk.
Of course, decisions move you forward only if they are properly executed. Be sure to ask the team recommending a decision to also lay out an execution plan including resources and communications with associated timeline. A risk assessment is also a key element of the decision analysis and can be used to reduce risk during the execution process.
I talked earlier about how revisiting the decision process multiple times is frustrating and time consuming, but of course not every decision can be a purely once-through process. When is it right to reassess a decision? Here are some situations:
The overall macroeconomic environment has changed significantly. If so, it is worth taking a look at key decisions, either to ensure they are still robust or perhaps to revisit priorities and timetables.
The key bases or driving forces for the decision have changed. This could be due to a real change, or due to the uncovering of some mistaken assumptions that underpinned the decision.
New or bigger risks associated with the decision have come to light. Youll have to assess the impact, especially if these risks cannot be reduced in some way such as with a longer timetable or increased costs.
It is important once you make decisions to communicate those decisions to the organization in a clear and concise manner. Highlight key aspects of the decision such as the team involved, the process used, the choices analyzed, the outcome reached and the rationale behind the decision. Give some information on the timetable and process for implementation and a contact point for questions. If the issue is controversial or complex it may be useful to set up an internal website where more information can be located, including a set of frequently asked questions and answers.
The combination of more and better decisions can power your business forward!
Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (908) 400-5210.