Like a person, a business is an organism that requires many decisions be constantly made, small ones and large ones. In aggregate, they determine the functioning of the business. There are many decision dynamics to consider – for example, looking at how decisions are made and assessing their consequences. A situation can render a seemingly small decision critical. Or a proclamation from above can alienate and confuse the people expected to support it. Of course some decisions are more easily made in the proverbial vacuum. And how often is it that someone with a business need or opportunity is unable to make the decision and is unable to see the path to influence it and get it properly made? Decisions are fundamental to performance, governance, risk management, and control.
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Business has always been challenged, often struggled, with making and keeping decisions. Poor performance is largely a function of not being able to make good decisions that stick. A lot can be learned about a company by looking at it’s decision making abilities. Can they make the right decisions? Are they enlightened and open enough to do some self-examination, and if so, can they really see the patterns and possibilities?
The ethics, commitment, personalities, and skills of people have always been significant factors in general, and they are especially important in relation to decision making. Now along comes radically increasing change rates and ever higher expectations (internal from the business and external from customers) which are introducing new levels of complexity that must be managed. Complexity, that evil under constant watch and targeted for reduction, both constrains and influences decision making – here lies a battle line.
Notwithstanding the continuing advancement of decision supporting technology, it’s people that drive the effectiveness of decisions. People have to implement and use technology in the right way for the right purposes, making decisions to change or interpret the business rules that get automated. In fact, unless good decision basics are in evidence, not only will application of technology not help, it can be quite disruptive.
There has always been value in the use of data as a way to influence decisions and make them less emotional or political. In this regard, it used to be enough to ask “where did you get your data?” Unfortunately, there can be conflicting agendas and data filtering or convenient interpretations that lead to preconceived answers, all of which tends to undermine decisions. There must be an integrity of decision support data coupled with appropriate positive use. So now, given complexity and questionable transparency, most are backing up and asking “what is this data for?”
Given that decisions are important, haven’t consistently worked as needed, and the challenges are increasing, what can be done about it? These 3 points are like ready, set, go!
1) Embrace the importance of solid decision making. Decision making capabilities are part of that holy grail, one of the glues that hold it all together, present in all dimensions of the Business Performance Blueprint, a key enabler. Consider reviewing the available decision making reference models, taking a practical look in relation to the types of decisions you make or find particularly challenging.
2) Include decision making as a visible part of your integrative strategy. Good decision making needs a definition and be generally understood. In a small company or one where communications are very good and people are accessible, it might be enough for leaders to demonstrate and discuss the preferred behaviors. Consider setting a “minimum bar” that everyone needs to clear. The awareness level needs to be there, and might need to be deliberate within your communications strategy, training, and work instructions. Determine the degree of structure you want to incorporate into your decision making process and ensure it is supported. It might be necessary to have associated performance metrics and assigned process owner/facilitators.
3) Feature decision making successes. Find some instances of people making good decisions in the course of business operations, and give them visibility. Beyond the reinforcement and aspiration this provides, it can help define and reinforce shared values and experiences. Stories have a way of positively influencing your culture. Success stories should be consistent with your definition of decision making, have a positive impact on performance metrics, and ideally tie out with other objectives like good corporate citizenship.