“In any moment of decisions, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
As a leader, you’re generally working with two types of decisions: immediate or crisis action and everything else. To be both timely and effective in what you decide requires forethought and practice. There isn’t an effective leader operating in any organization who hasn’t invested some time to reflect on how they will make decisions.
In this article I’m going to unpack for you five tips you can begin mastering today to help you with the art of timely decision making. I say “art”, because that’s what decision making is, it’s an art. All science involved takes the form of structures, processes, and analysis. This is all necessary to make effective decisions, but decisions aren’t made by science alone. Emotion, bias, and political implications play the largest role and these are not science.
“In every situation, ideation is necessary, but decision is mandatory.”
- Create Your Structure For Timely Decision Making. Both crisis action and deliberate situations require their own structure for timely decision making. In crisis situations, training takes the lead in supporting the leader to making a quick decision. Anyone with a military, medical, or emergency services background knows the importance training, tactics and procedures play in shortening the incident – assessment – response loop.
In every other situation, you have time to think, to deliberate a bit more and to assess a larger sight picture before deciding. Whenever possible, make use of the time available to make a decision. Immediate responses, while timely, can leave second or third-order impacts uncovered. Unless you are in crisis action mode, pause and think. Then decide.
Before you find yourself in your next decision-making challenge, take the time now to build your methodology, your structure for making decisions in each situation. Let your employees know what this structure will look like so they can participate within it, not against it. And only adjust it when it’s proven to not work. The main benefit from doing this is that you’re not scrambling to figure out a structure within which you will make timely decisions when the situation arises the next time.People want leaders who decide, not oscillate. Especially when chaos is reigning supreme.
- Understand The Effects Bias Will Play. You cannot fully eliminate bias from your thinking any more than you can fully eliminate risk from any project. All you can do is address it, accept it and then mitigate it. There are over forty named and studied biases, however let’s just worry about the five contained in this handy acronym: E-COPE:
– Evaluation of Evidence
– Confirmation Bias
– Perceived Causality
– Estimating Probabilities
Check out the linked smart sheet to help you identify what each of these biases are and how you can mitigate them in your timely decision making.
- Law of 3 Options. A decision often becomes untimely, due to a lack of proper ideation that generates suitable options for the leader. Rarely, outside of crisis action situations, is the equation reduced to one answer. Most often, you have time to generate more than one viable option beyond “do X or do nothing”.
Driven into my mind from my earliest days in the Air Force, was the necessity to always create three options for a decision; what I term “The Law of 3 Options”. At a minimum, this allows you and your team to view a situation not as binary, but as multidimensional. It can also eliminate stress, that often accompanies making a decision, where it is felt there are no options. In these situations you aren’t working at making decisions, you’re answering ultimatums.
- Procrastinate On Purpose. If you’re a Dave Allen fan, the productivity thought leader behind Getting Things Done, then you know that he rightly proscribes three filters to sift every task through: do, delete, delegate. We can, and many do, apply the same filters in our decision making. It’s highly effective for making them timely and keeping an organization moving.
However, these three filters have a fault when we’re faced with a decision whose time has not yet arrived. Do you simply delete it and hope it pops up again? No, it sits on your list and causes angst internally with you and your staff.
Instead, try what Rory Vaden in Procrastinate on Purpose proscribes: delay it. Give yourself and your staff the permission to delay deciding on a decision whose time has not yet arrived. This doesn’t mean you’re not deciding: you are, you’ve decided to delay. To ensure that you don’t delay forever, also decide a date by when you will be ready to implement a final decision to do, delete or delegate the task.
This doesn’t diminish your credibility as a leader. If anything, it likely increases it because you’re addressing, in a very deliberate fashion, that not every decision has to be made immediately, but, that every decision does have to be made at some point.
- Provide Your Team With Frames. I believe, out of the box thinking is overused and over-abused. Rarely, in most organizations, is it necessary or desired, to generate innovative ideas to solve problems. Especially recurring problems. The reason isn’t that leadership abhors creativity. It’s simply that not every problem requires a unique way to solve it. In fact, most organizations lack the resources necessary to constantly retool for the newest out of the box idea to solve problems that do not exist or can be resolved simply. As the old adage sagely proscribes: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!
Instead, provide a box within which your team can ideate and generate options that are realistic and will actually result in a decision. What most people want, especially in unusual situations, are some type of general guidelines – frames if you will – within which they can perform analysis, collect data and create options. Within the frame they have free reign.
“A good frame enables someone to take action.”
Mark and Sam Hurwitz
The frame you establish may be resource based, risk based, threshold based (think upper and lower levels acceptable) or quantitative based (perfect for SMART goals). How much risk, failure or experimentation is acceptable? Is incremental, monumental or no change allowed? Is there no, minor or full organizational (or political) support for the initiative? Can other actions be stopped to accommodate or will they have to operate simultaneously?
As an example, think about a time when you were given an open mandate to be creative or a situation where you delegated such a mandate. Did your leader, or you, articulate what was actually sought for creatively? In most situations the answer, unfortunately, is no. This isn’t effective leadership and it doesn’t help in making timely decisions. The better alternative is to provide a framework and let the team create.