3 Decision-Making Wrongs And How To Make Them Right

Organizations are decision making machines. Their performance, then, depends on the quality of those decisions, an assertion that has been validated through numerous research studies.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know if a decision was “right,” but there are three definite wrongs that we frequently see in large organizations. Here’s how to spot and correct them.

1. The Wrong Problem

Decisions are often framed as a “yes or no” question, such as, “Should we increase headcount of the call center?”, “Should we revamp the website?” or “Should we run a pilot of our new development program in Asia?”

 However, this framing is problematic for several reasons:

  • Research suggests that we reach better decisions when we expand the set of alternatives considered. That is impossible to do with a yes/no question
  • These questions lack context
  • This framing doesn’t remind decision-makers of the choice’s fundamental purpose

Make It Right: When you hear a yes/no decision getting tee’d up, do this instead:

  1. Ask What problem are we trying to solve? What are we hoping to achieve?
  2. Based on those answers, reframe the decision as an open-ended question that starts with “how might we…” – for example:
    • How might we respond to increased call volume without reducing service quality or margin?
    • How might we position ourselves in the eyes of our customers?
    • How might we test the effectiveness of our new development program?

2. The Wrong People

In Relationship oriented cultures, there’s usually a bias toward over-inclusion. Decisions are socialized with dozens of people and often it’s unclear just how much buy-in is needed, whose input must be integrated into the decision, and who has the final call. This protracts the process for weeks (or months!), costing hours of lost productivity and hindering speed and agility.

In cultures that value rapid progress above all else, there can be the opposite problem: decision makers just “make the call” without understanding the frontline perspective or impact – causing unintended consequences that lead to decisions getting revised or reversed.

Make It Right: To correct both, cultivate an organizational discipline of deciding who decides:

  • Name the person who has the “D” – the authority to make the ultimate decision
  • Consider who should be consulted based on:
    1. Who is impacted by the decision?
    2. Who has a broader or different perspective that should be considered?
    3. Who has subject matter expertise or data that will improve the quality of the decision?
  • Make the list of people who need to be involved. Keep the list as small as possible

3. The Wrong Place

Sometimes, relatively straight forward decisions cause inordinate amounts of swirl. This usually manifests as missed deadlines, lots of meeting, excessive back and forth on Slack, etc.

A leading root cause is that the decision is being made in the wrong place – i.e., this decision being made at one level is revealing a lack of decision or alignment at a higher or more strategic level.

Make It Right: Imagine you’re trying to land the roadmap for a website redesign, and for some reason the decision isn’t getting made.

    1. Ask the decision owner, “Why do you think this is harder than it should be?”

      If the answer is some version of “key stakeholders aren’t on the same page,” hit pause

    2. Ask the team to precisely name the real debate. Reasons for strategic misalignment might be: “One leader wants to optimize the website for customers, while another wants to prioritize partners” or “The usability team wants to improve navigation but the digital team wants to introduce new capabilities.”

  1. All options are valid, it just depends on what’s most important. And that has to be defined at the right place. Don’t allow leaders to let their misalignment become someone else’s problem. Ask them to resolve their differences and give guiding principles to the team – or empower the person with accountability to listen to all perspectives and make the call.

  2. We all set out to make good decisions every day – to execute business strategies, advance work and communicate effectively with each other. And so we feel surprised when we run into a decision that gets stuck. Righting these three common wrongs will not only cause the real obstacle to surface, but will vastly improve the speed and quality of your decision-making overall.