Do you struggle with making decisions? At some point, we all do.
While there are some decisions I find easy, like what to say to start a conversation or my personal policy toward jerks, there are many decisions I find difficult.
They tend to be the ones where the stakes are high, the outcomes aren’t clear cut, and everybody has an opinion. That means there’s likely to be controversy no matter what is decided. And it’s even worse if it will take time to tell whether the decision was a good one or not.
The more senior you become, the more you will be called upon to make tough decisions. So, now is a good time to start preparing yourself for difficult decision making.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s not always possible to gain consensus on whether a decision is good or bad. But it is possible to ensure that you engage in a strong decision-making process every time you face a big decision.
The Process of Decision-Making
When you’re under pressure to make a tough decision, it’s useful to have a checklist to guide you through the decision-making process.
A leader I respect recently shared with me his five-step process for making important decisions. I’ll be implementing this process for my next big decision and think this process can make a difference for you as well.
1. Who is the decision for?
The first step is to determine who the decision is for. That is, whose perspective do you need to take into account? For whom is it a good decision?
So, think about the key stakeholders. For a corporate executive, it’s the employees, clients and investors. For the Dean of a college, it’s the faculty, staff and students. For parents, it’s their family unit.
Who is your decision for?
2. What does it mean for the future context?
Every time you make a decision, you’re setting a precedent. It’s a data point that stakeholders can point to in the future as they make a case for their own decision making.
While it may be expeditious for a parent to give in to their toddler’s latest temper tantrum, the longer-term consequences can be even worse. Similarly, it pays to give serious thought to future implications of today’s difficult decisions.
3. What are the values involved?
The best compass for making decisions is to base them on values, both yours and the organization’s. It’s useful to get clear on both sets of values before you’re thrown into the deep end on a tricky decision, and to ensure there’s as much alignment as possible. Otherwise, you probably don’t belong in that organization.
4. Who are you bringing into the decision-making process?
It’s tempting to keep the decision-making team a small group of “like-minded” people. While it makes for quicker decisions, you run the risk of falling into the trap of groupthink. And that, in turn, is the foundation for making suboptimal decisions.
Instead, look for contrarians and get their points of view. Just like Abraham Lincoln did.
As the creator of this decision-making process says, make sure you have a group of people you can assemble quickly and provide a safe zone to express their points of view without consequences.
5. Establish collective responsibility
Once you’ve brought in and taken into account a diverse group of viewpoints and had a robust discussion, it is still up to you as the leader to make the final decision.
However, make sure the group you’ve assembled understands that the decision is the group’s collective responsibility. That is, once they walk out of the room, it will be equally their decision and they can’t undermine or complain about it.
The origins of this concept of collective responsibility comes from the well-established parliamentary procedures in the UK. The convention is that members of the Cabinet must support all decisions made behind closed doors in Cabinet even if they don’t agree with them.
The next time you’re faced with a big decision, use these five steps to ensure you’ve used a robust decision-making process. It will also increase the likelihood your decision will stand the test of time as being a great decision.
In the end, the key is to have a good decision-making process that you can communicate and defend to the rest of the world and that will give you confidence in your big decisions.
What are the decisions you struggle with, and which elements of this decision-making process would make the biggest improvements to your decision-making?
Leave a comment and let me know.