It is easier when we are busy, under pressure or facing unusual, challenging circumstances to make every decision in the same way. Easier, but not effective. One of the biggest pitfalls is to spend an equal amount of time on each decision – an approach that will short change some and waste time on others. Several techniques can improve efficiency and effectiveness:
- Sort decisions into three categories: strategic, significant, and swift.
- Strategic decisions require the most attention and the greatest rigour: they are often complex, either affecting a range of issues or requiring detailed analysis or discussion, and usually have long-term implications.
- Significant decisions are often resource-intensive but aren’t critically important on their own. Tailor your process to each one, spending more time on those that are more complicated.
- Swift decisions often have precedent or can be resolved with information or expertise that lies elsewhere. These decisions can often be delegated or streamlined with simple rules.
- Apply the most appropriate tools for you, your context and decision, and take a questioning approach. The right tool and approach will help you avoid overload and improve both the speed and quality of decisions. For example:
- Write down five goals / priorities that will benefit from the decision. This helps bring clarity and enables you to avoid the trap of making up reasons for your choices later. Why and how will it help?
- Write down at least three realistic alternatives. What other options are available?
- Write down the most important information you are missing. What do you need to know?
- Write down the impact your decision will have a year from now. Why does it matter?
- Discuss with – and get buy-in from – at least two (and no more than five) stakeholders. Hearing different perspectives reduces your bias, although bigger groups have diminishing returns. Have you discussed the decision widely enough?
- Document the decision – what was agreed and decided, by whom, and why. This helps with communication, it increases commitment, and helps you measure results. Is there sufficient communication, engagement, accountability and buy-in for the decision?
- Keep the decision under review and, if appropriate, be prepared to make course corrections. What will progress look like? When will you review the decision?
- Keep an open mind and watch out for biases. This is tough to do, particularly on issues where you’re not objective. Solutions include:
- Imagine using a dial when debating a decision: all the way to the right represents absolute certainty or commitment, and all the way to the left signifies none.
- Recall a moment of uncertainty, doubt or mistakenness, or when something you were so sure was right turned out to be wrong. Whenever you’re feeling overly confident, remind yourself of that moment, and look for a sounding board or guidance.
- Question long-held beliefs and “truths” – now, more than ever. This can be the toughest challenge of all, but the quicker you acknowledge that an idea is unworkable, the sooner you’ll find the right course of action.
Kourdi Associates work with current and potential leaders to develop their mindset, skills and effectiveness. Jeremy Kourdi is formerly Senior Vice President with The Economist, he has worked with London Business School and Duke Corporate Education as well as market-leading businesses worldwide, and he is the author of 27 books translated into 17 languages, including The Truth About Talent and Coaching Essentials. His business Kourdi Associates provides coaches, expert content and consultants that help leaders successfully navigate a changing world.
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