Making Decisions

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Making Decisions

Get others to make some.

by: Howard M. Guttman

Leadership Excellence

February 01, 2012

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Decision making, the ability to choose the right path among competing alternatives, remains a quality of effective leadership. But, today, not making decisions—asking others to assume accountability for them—has become a sign of high-performance leadership.

Decision overload tires you out. Having one person make multiple daily decisions can lead to decision fatigue, since the more choices you make in a day, the harder each one becomes. The typical reaction is to shortcut the decision-making process by either acting impulsively or doing nothing.

Having others make decisions is smart. It leverages capabilities around you. Today’s global enterprises are too vast and complex for one-person rule, and the immense data flow makes it impossible for any one person or team to intelligently make all calls.

As a high-performance leader, you can effectively pass the decision-making baton without shirking your responsibilities in five ways:

1. Create the right context. Delegation fright is understandable. If those below are not in sync with the strategy and capable of shouldering the burden of decision making, delegation becomes a roll of the dice. In high-performance cultures, decisions are not so much delegated as distributed, under controlled conditions, to teams. Leaders can be confident making decision handoffs when teams are: tightly aligned with strategy, accountable for the team’s success, clear on goals and responsibilities, agreed upon decision-making protocols, and transparent in relationships.

2. Set decision-making ground rules. If you’re planning to hand off decision-making responsibility to a team, your delegation fright index will rise if you know that there is confusion regarding who is going to make decisions and how. Such confusion reduces speed and efficiency, lessens accountability, and creates decision waffle, where team members spend more time bickering about who is the decider than thinking through the nature of the decision and its implications.

To increase the speed and efficiency of its decisions, teams must agree on who should be involved in making a decision. For example, which decisions will be made: Unilaterally—by one person, with no input? Consultatively—by one person, after soliciting input from a few people who will add value? By consensus—everyone has input and must live with the outcome? For each key decision, team members must agree on which of the three decision modes applies; otherwise, confusion, hard feelings, and subterfuge reign.

3. Use a common decision-making process. Decision making is a discipline that can be transferred. When distributing decision-making, ensure that those you involve all work off the same script and follow the same systematic process: first define the decision, then lay out the objectives, generate alternatives, and consider the benefits and risks of each. This will increase your confidence that every decision maker touches all the right bases before coming to a conclusion. It will also make it much easier to review others’ decisions.

4. Streamline. Examine the processes for making decisions. What’s the lag time between asking teams to make decisions, having those decisions made and approved, and then implementing them? Wherever there is a need for information sharing and handoffs, you’ll find overlapping, competing systems, processes, procedures, layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals. Such complexity retards decision making and demotivates. Distributing decisions is one thing; enabling implementation is quite another.

5. Provide the right venues. Once decision-making protocols and process are in place, let teams attack real decisions that make a difference. Think of intact teams as platforms for decision making. Are the teams aligned? Do team members know how to ask the right questions, process information, and test the integrity of their conclusions? Have you removed complexity, so there’s a clear line of sight from start to end of the process?

Once teams are aligned and members are equipped with the know-how, and once noise in the system has been removed, they relieve decision-making pressure up the line and create a powerhouse for making the decisions that will get you to where you want to be.

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