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D is a powerful letter to the human body. It’s a vitamin that keeps our bones strong, and rickets at bay. It may not get much conscious attention… but without it, you’d be mush.

D is an equally powerful letter to the enterprise. It represents “The Decision” – as in who makes it, who doesn’t, and when. It may not get much conscious attention… but without it… business would kind of be mush. Mush doesn’t work.

In talking to clients and peers about what it would take to make work work better for them, I’m continually astounded by the frequency with which decision-making, in some form, arises.

Most typically I’ll hear:

Decisions are made soooo slowly… if we could take the time we spend debating and consensus building, and use that instead for innovating and interacting with customers, we’d be so much better off! (Inefficiency)

We’re afraid to make decision until all senior leaders have bought in, because if it fails, the consequences are too big (Risk aversion)Decisions get made “in the meeting” but then there are the meetings after the meetings, where the real decisions get made. (Lack of accountability)

I’m responsible for X. But I have no authority to make decisions around X. So really I’m just a doer. I could add so much more value if I were empowered to make the decisions within the scope of my job! (Disempowerment)

Decisions get made quickly. But the outcomes suffer because we’re not involving the right Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) at the right points in the process to influence the outcome (Decision rights)

Do any of the above sound familiar? If so, what’s a leader to do about it?

Here are some simple steps on the yellow brick road to getting decisions made faster, better, and fully informed. And if you yourself aren’t a leader, think about how you might engage your leadership in this conversation.

Step One: Spot the Opportunity

Don’t boil the ocean. Choose wisely a small starting place. Where will a change in decision-making behavior have the greatest positive impact for your team? Where are the real pain points? Where could a small shift in behavior make a decision move faster or better? If you don’t know, just ask your team.

Where is there unclarity of accountability? Where are the bottlenecks? Where are your SME’s struggling to contribute because they’re not included early enough? Are too many approvals required for every new hire? Are clients requesting too many revisions because your tech experts aren’t informing the early drafts?

You’ll know a pain point when you see one.

Step Two: Define the Breakdown

You’ve got your starting place – your “what.” Now it’s time to understand what’s actually happening – the “why” of your breakdown.

Let’s use this example: decisions are “officially” made in a group setting, but then after the meeting, people choose not to uphold the commitments made. Your job here is to play detective, and investigate why this is happening.

  • Are people feeling too unsafe to express any of their doubts or concerns in the meeting?
  • Is the senior-most leader in the room simply not holding their own teams accountable to these decisions?
  • Is there a culture of competition versus collaboration that needs to be addressed?

Having an understanding of – or at least a working hypothesis around – the cause of the breakdown goes a long way in crafting the right plan to address it.

Step Three: Build a Plan

I don’t mean to oversimplify here. This step is a big one – and you might require some support in defining and bringing this to life. But there are some basic tools and strategies that can serve you here.If clarity of decision rights is the issue, then the RACI Decision Matrix can help define decision rights throughout any key business process.

If “the meeting after the meeting” is the problem, maybe an initial solution is getting the team on the same page around what accountability must look like – and how to achieve it.

Is the issue one of SME exclusion? Maybe a simple After Action Review can help offer a hindsight view of a process execution, and determine in the rear-view where someone should have been inserted.

Then design it better for next time. There is a lot to digest in this edition. But if you take one thing away, let it be this: effective decision-making is a critical capability for any organization seeking to thrive. If you need additional support, get it. But don’t let your teams flounder in unclarity and inefficiency.