Quick decisions outperform those we agonise over, says a new survey of 1,200 managers. The key is to get your process right.
Whoever still believes the adage that you “can either have good decisions or fast ones” is wrong. Writing for McKinsey Quarterly, Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost, and Leigh Weiss say there are three ways to streamline the decision-making process around “big-bet, cross-cutting and delegated decisions” – encouraging healthy debate, refining decision-making processes, and focusing on commitment to outcomes.
BIG BET DECISIONS
Strategic decisions deserve very serious contemplation, but good decision making does not depend on the amount of time spent making choices. What matters is the quality of the conversation. Instead of focusing on the traditional presentation and Q&A session, instill a sense of healthy debate:
- Remind participants of the strategic goal.
- Assign people to present the case for and against.
- Appoint a “devil’s advocate”.
- Assume your plan fails and work backwards to discover how you might tweak for success.
To avoid the group-think mentality that undermines decision-making effectiveness, it’s vital to create an atmosphere of safety and openness. Here’s where senior execs can help by working to build trust and instill an understanding that critique is welcome from any level of seniority within the firm.
Those in charge don’t understand who needs to be included or excluded from the decision-making process; barriers between departments make it hard to get a sense of the overall effect of one choice over another; sometimes there’s no process at all for making decisions that involve multiple parts of the organisation, and stalemate ensues. Effective processes eliminate “death by committee”:
- Set the goal: “Clarify objectives, measures, targets, and roles”.
- Instill meeting discipline – develop a “meeting manifesto” which details the dos and don’ts of the meeting room.
- Be clear about decision rights – who has the power to vote?
- Manage numbers of attendees to strike a balance between effective representation and bloating.
- Reduce complexity by breaking down decisions into their constituent parts – define inputs and outputs, assign responsibility for individual outcomes.
Clarity is a stress-reliever. The research shows that employees managed this way have higher morale and feel they have a better work-life balance.
These are the smaller decisions, but don’t underestimate their cumulative effect. The research demonstrates that, wherever possible, those closest to the coalface should take the decisions that affect them.
“Those empowered to make decisions and receiving sufficient coaching from leaders were 3.2 times more likely… to say their company’s delegated decisions were both high quality and speedy.”
Empowerment means creating an environment in which it’s possible to fail safely, learn the lessons and move on. At the same time, there must be an expectation of action, with consequences for those who duck their responibilities. Nurture managers who are “hands-on and delegating leaders who coach, challenge, and inspire their reports… and stay well clear of actually making the decision”.
Good decision making requires commitment to quality, process, and execution, with a clear expectation of follow up. Do this and you’ll have the agility to make the most of the opportunities before you.