by Soren Eilertsen, Ph.D. July 28, 2015.
Success on execution of business strategy is largely dependent on the degree of support by the broader leadership of the organization for the underlying strategic decisions. People support decisions when they know how the decisions were made and when they had an opportunity to provide input along the way; in other words, when there is process and transparency around the decision journey. Interestingly, people will support decisions even if they don’t agree with the outcome as long as they understand how the decision was made and the process was fair, which by the way doesn’t necessarily mean consensus based. This ability to support a decision made with a “fair” process is called procedural justice, which is the underlying logic for why our court system works from a decision perspective.
Clearly, decision-making is the most important practice that business leaders undertake. Yet, very frequently, we find no clear process for how decisions will be made inside companies. Do you have one in your organization? Leadership groups tend to kick difficult decisions down the road without really working the issue and then suddenly find themselves faced with a deadline, or, they jump to a conclusion without investing the required time to thoroughly examine the issue ending up with poorly thought out results or with a so called “best practice” solution that doesn’t add strategic advantage. Somehow, there is a lack of comfort in the ambiguity of “being in the process” of making a tough decision. While some leaders have difficulty with ambiguity, the lack of process makes it even more “painful” to be in this state. The authoritative or power based leader may resist instilling a decision-making process since providing visibility around decisions in subtle ways will appear to reduce his or her ability to wield control and to maneuver with different stakeholder groups. In reality, getting the right leaders and stakeholders pushing “in to” the decision together makes for much better decisions and sets the organization up for success.
Difficult strategic decisions require a creative journey in order to gain clarity of the “real” issue and discover options for the road ahead. Leaders don’t just solve problems; they use problems to transform the organization. Strategic decisions are the potential pivot point of transformation and as such much be treated very carefully as impending “history post” on the journey of the business. Getting a clear decision-making process established will ensure your organization makes much better decisions and, more importantly, greatly enhances success in the execution of these decisions.
Establishing a decision making process is deceptively simple; however, using it in the real work of the organization takes discipline and resolve. Two steps to get started, (1) develop the decision making process and (2) develop a one page roadmap of impending strategic decisions. In fact, the decision making process can be as simple as a four process steps – set focus, gather facts, discover options, and make decision. See the article “Four Steps for Making the Difficult Decisions” originally published in July 2015 on the American Management Association Playbook website. The roadmap is a document with a description of each upcoming decision (rows) and a timeline, typically depicted by months or weeks (columns) each with an indicator of which process step is considered in this time period. If interested, email us to request an example of a roadmap and a sample process outline.