Five questions to help you decide

By John Ager, Kepner-Tregoe

When faced with an unmet need, decision makers can choose to choose alone, choose to consult others, or choose to delegate the decision to others. When choosing which approach to take and who to involve, effective decision makers consider three elements: information needed to make a good choice; commitment needed to implement that choice; and potential conflict over the choice.

Involving the right people can be the difference between a decision that advances an organization’s goals and one that results in ambiguity and inconsistency. These five questions can help determine when and how others should be involved in decision-making:

  1. How different are the alternatives? In some decision-making scenarios, the decision maker has enough information to know all the available alternatives are equivalent and acceptable; for example choosing a fast food restaurant on a road trip. If any of the available alternatives will effectively meet the need, from a quality perspective it doesn’t really matter who is involved in making the decision. However, as we will discuss below, there may time constraints or a need to involve others to build commitment or manage conflict.
  2. How much do we know about the decision? In other decision-making scenarios, the decision maker recognizes they don’t have enough information to know which alternatives are acceptable or even what alternatives to consider, for example choosing the destination for a road trip. Effective decision makers recognize when they don’t have sufficient information, accept their ignorance, slow down, and involve subject matter experts to gather, organize, and analyze the information necessary to make the best balanced choice.
  3. How much support do we need? Sometimes, the commitment of others to the success of the decision is unnecessary or it is simply a ‘given’; for example choosing a new router for the house. Other times, we need active support to ensure a successful outcome; for example the passengers on the road trip. When building commitment is necessary, effective decision makers involve in the decision making process those whose implementation support will be necessary.
  4. How well aligned are people’s goals? In some cases, people whose commitment is needed have different goals and motivations than the decision maker; for example choosing how long the road trip can be. When goals are not aligned and building commitment is necessary, effective decision makers involve others in the decision making process to build consensus around the need being met by the decision, limits on what alternatives should be considered, and measures for evaluating how well alternatives satisfy the need.
  5. How much conflict is there about alternatives? Finally, there are situations when people whose commitment is needed have strong feelings about favored alternatives; for example choosing a road trip destination. To build commitment to the final choice, effective decision makers provide a forum for people to share how they reached their conclusions. If the decision maker has built consensus on the need being met and the limits on what alternatives should be considered, they can guide the group to use the collected information to evaluate which alternative best satisfies that need.
What are your time constraints?

A lack of time can be a significant constraint to involving others in decision making, but it is important to recognize when effectiveness is more important than efficiency. Effective decision makers recognize that when they lack of information or commitment, or need to build alignment or manage conflict, they need to involve others. Working collaboratively to reach agreement on the need to be met, limits on what alternatives should be considered, and measures for evaluating alternatives, will ultimately streamline the decision-making process and reduce the total time required to reach a successful conclusion.

When time is not a significant constraint, effective leaders recognize that participating in decision making can be an opportunity for skill development. With the right training, practice, and coaching, people can become effective decision makers. If time is available, providing team members who are not yet effective decision makers with an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process allows them to hone skills and gain experience. Effective leaders do this proactively to prepare for when time is limited and an effective decision demands effective participation from others.

Beat the odds by involving others

Involving other people in the decision-making process can be challenging and time consuming. Yet the alternative may be far worse. Research has shown that decision makers who follow these involvement guidelines have an 80% success rate—nobody is perfect. But decision makers who fail to follow these guidelines can expect to be successful only 32% of the time, far less than perfect.

Asking and answering these five questions and then considering time constraints and other goals, will give you a significant decision making advantage.

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