“Well, what do you think?"
The director of new channel sales had just presented her team members with ideas for a campaign to increase market share. She looked at them for a response. Some looked bewildered, one looked angry and a couple avoided her gaze. Dead silence.

Finally responses seeped out. The packaging liaison assured her that the elaborate packaging couldn’t make the holiday deadline. Marketing emphatically informed her that retailers would have to approve the coupon discounts requiring a series of meetings. Finance delivered the coup de grâce. The two key products in the offer would undermine the sales needed to make their individual revenue targets.

One of the most critical—and frequently overlooked—aspects of decision-making is identifying who needs to be involved. And doing it as early as possible. This show-and-tell style of decision-making just doesn’t work, as the sales director found out.

The methodology stays the same…
You have probably attended decision-making sessions where someone had a pet alternative and fought to push it through. A good decision process never begins with alternatives. The actual methodology for decision-making never changes. The best decision makers look at three critical factors and always approach them in the same order:

  1. Set Objectives. Start with objectives, by asking: What are we trying to accomplish? What are the results we are trying to achieve? This paves the way for honest, open discussion and eliminates jumping to alternatives.
  2. Identify Alternatives. Only after a clear, specific set of objectives has been agreed upon are alternatives discussed. At this point each alternative can be evaluated against the objectives and the most suitable ones can be explored.
  3. Manage Risk. The possible choices can be evaluated in terms of risk. What could go wrong if an alternative is selected and how likely is that to happen?

The final choice is made only after all three elements have been considered in the right order.

The methodology stays the same ... the decision-makers change
Unilateral, top-down decision-making was once the norm. Today work is done largely in projects and decisions are made in groups. But who should be involved? Leaders must learn to involve the right people, in the right way and at the right time.

How different her decision would have been if, before beginning her decision process, the director of new channel sales had considered who should be involved—and how and when. She would have had the information and the perspectives needed to make a more considered, well-balanced choice.

Involving others in decisions
For different decisions, different people need to be involved, at different levels of involvement and at various times in the process. Leaders at every level need to involve others in decision-making for a number of reasons:

To obtain information. Before engaging in the decision-making process, the leader should consider what information is needed. Will others be needed to set clear objectives? Does someone have the information needed to evaluate alternatives? Who can identify and assess risk? If the director of new channel sales had asked these questions, she would have realized she did not have enough facts to properly evaluate her chosen alternative.

To come up with creative alternatives. Leaders often think they are so close to the issue that they have the best answers—failing to realize that distance can provide perspective. People at other levels or functions in an organization can spot innovative alternatives that might not enter the leader’s vision. If the director of new channel sales had shared her objective and challenged the team to increase revenue by two percent during the holiday season, the team might have identified effective alternatives. In addition, because they were not consulted, team members were hesitant when they were finally asked for their input.

To gain commitment. There are decisions that a leader can make alone. A leader may be tempted to cut to the chase and sometimes it makes sense. But it makes sense to ask: Will my team commit to my decision if I have not included them in the process? The key to success is flawless implementation. If people are resentful, do not agree, or do not understand the course of action, they are unlikely to carry out the implementation process with enthusiasm or attention to detail. Thoughtful leaders make an effort to at least communicate the major elements that went into the choice to those affected.

To train future decision makers. An important role of a leader for the organization’s continued success is to train his or her successors. That means coaching and mentoring subordinates in every essential management skill, including decision-making.

Effective leaders recognize that shared decision-making is a conversation, not as a superior to subordinates, but among individuals who bring valuable information and ideas to the table. When faced with a decision, the leader needs to let his or her team members know at the outset that they will play a vital role in coming up with the best possible solution.

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