An 8-step Process to Higher-performance Executive Decisions
Leaders must make a number of important decisions every day. You would expect that through repetition and practice they would continue to take their decision-making capability to higher levels of proficiency.
However, after working with more than 50 senior executive teams of Global 2000 companies, I’ve found it is one of the top three areas of dissatisfaction for executive teams seeking higher performance. Why is it so hard for leaders and teams to make decisions?
This is my assessment based on what I’ve seen:
- Teams don’t trust their experts to do the diligence needed to define the issue they are trying to solve, collect the facts to frame the decision, and even lay out the alternative choices. Half of team members don’t take the time to fully understand all the issues related to the decision, so discussions become personal preference instead of excellent business judgment.
- Teams often believe that making a strategic decision is voting together rather than thinking together. The critical art of thinking together is lost on most teams as egos (wanting my position to win) or indifference (not my area) take precedence within many teams.
- They fail to agree and align on the decision that needs to be made, ask tough questions about whether or not they are the right group to make it, and agree on the data needed to do so.
It is amazing how many decisions have to be revisited because teams aren’t clear on what was decided, who is responsible for executing the decision, and how exactly it will impact the business.
Most executive teams want to become better at decision making. Because of this leadership team imperative, we have built and iterated a decision-making process that blends the need to make fact-based decisions with the urgency to act, while tapping the immense knowledge of an executive team to make better decisions.
Why is it so hard for leaders and teams to make decisions?
The decision-making process consists of eight steps that include identifying the following:
1. Who needs to make the decision?
The senior team needs to identify the exact criteria for determining which decisions they should make. It is very common to find a senior team that metaphorically uses zip lines to drop down one or two levels to make decisions they shouldn’t be making.
The team should challenge themselves to consider whether they need to make all the decisions or whether they are actually restricting performance in the organization.
2. What exactly is the decision to be made?
Framing the exact decision that needs to be made sounds much simpler than it is. Each decision needs some refining to be sure the “root decision” is the focus of consideration and not four or five areas related to the decision.
3. Which team member is responsible?
A single member of the senior team should be responsible for presenting the decision that needs to be made, and collecting all the data and relevant facts needed to make it. They should be the single person answering clarifying questions or deferring to others.
4. What are the clarifying questions?
Nothing is more important than conducting a disciplined and rigorous first round of clarifying questions only that must be taken in turn. Many executives have to be corrected or asked, “Is that a question to enhance your understanding or a point of position?” This routine must be safeguarded at all costs and protected by all members of the team.
5. What are the recommendations and concerns?
In the second round, each team member is given the opportunity to state his or her recommendation for the decision individually.
6. What is the senior team decision?
The senior team member states the decision that has been made based on the recommendations. He or she may revise the recommendations slightly to confirm with the group the best and most acceptable decision. If the group is split, ask what information is needed to better evaluate the decision and re-start the process.
7. What are the commitment and the ramifications of the decision for the senior team?
Most senior team decisions require everyone on the team to change their behaviors. Be very explicit in discussing the ramifications of the decision on the organization and the behaviors of the senior team.
8. How will we follow through with this decision and communicate it to all stakeholders?
Decide who is responsible for executing and supporting the decision, and what metrics will be used to track its successful implementation. The team must also decide how to communicate the decision, and to whom.
While these may seem like obvious steps, it’s interesting how many organizations and leaders do not consciously take this approach. And in the end overlook key elements that deliver better, clearer decisions.