One of the most essential jobs of leadership is making decisions both big and small. We’ve found, however, that how you make decisions has just as much impact on the ultimate consequences as the decision itself.
In our work with clients, we tend to run into three common decision-making pitfalls. Here’s how to avoid them when making your next big choice.
PITFALL #1: TREATING ALL DECISIONS LIKE BIG DECISIONS
Not all decisions are created equal. Being able to calibrate the choice at hand with the amount of due diligence and deliberation you give it is critical to making sound decisions without unnecessarily slowing down the work.
We often leverage a simple kitchen analogy to put things into perspective. If your decision is fairly low-stakes, relatively easy to reverse, and with a short duration of impact, we equate it to deciding what to have for dinner. We all want something good, but a bad dinner choice once in a while isn’t going to break us. So, we quickly identify options, solicit preferences, evaluate the pros and cons, and make a choice. At this first tier, there’s very little dialogue and deliberation.
But what if you’re buying a new cookware set? The investment is a bit higher, as is the duration of impact. At the second tier of decision-making, you’ll want to conduct a deeper analysis and solicit a broader range of perspectives. Also, consider what not making a decision looks like—maybe that new cookware set can wait until sale season.
And finally, we have our highest-stakes decisions. In this case, think about it being like deciding whether to remodel your kitchen—something you might do only once or twice as a homeowner. Start by exploring multiple scenarios and sketch out their potential outcomes, focusing on the long-term implications. You’ll want to consult a variety of subject-matter experts and engage in significant dialogue and deliberation, and you may need others to co-sign your choice.
PITFALL #2: LIMITING YOUR OPTIONS
Too often, we frame decisions as binary yes/no questions. Should we hire an additional administrative assistant? Require that employees return to the office? Start a DEI working group?
Instead, we advise our clients to step back, consider the root of the problem, and ask better questions. In the administrator scenario, let’s assume the current admins are overwhelmed and unable to fully support the team. Try asking, “How might we better meet the administrative needs of the team?” Now we’ve opened ourselves up to a broader array of potential solutions. Maybe there are admins within other functions who aren’t being completely leveraged, or perhaps the existing admin team is bogged down by inefficient processes. By asking better questions, it’s likely you’ll arrive at better, more creative solutions.
PITFALL #3: UNMAKING DECISIONS
Nothing wreaks havoc on an organization like routinely making and then reversing decisions. In the short-term, it wastes time and makes teams do duplicative or unnecessary work. In the long term, it lowers team morale and motivation, creates inertia and disempowerment, and inevitably impacts the bottom line.
Decision swirl can be caused by many factors: unclear decision-making roles, lack of a standard process/guidelines, insufficient due diligence, etc. But in our experience, it often comes down to a lack of trust: trust among those making the decision or trust between decision-makers and the team tasked with implementing their decisions.
Building trust in a culture that’s lacking it isn’t always easy. It requires more vulnerability than many leaders are comfortable with and a few hard conversations, but the payoff far outweighs the cost. Compared to the time, energy, and money spent when decisions are undone or not executed, a little discomfort doesn’t seem that bad at all.