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3 Ways Decision Tracking Drives Innovation: See Faster, Hear Clearer, Do Better

Erik Larson Sep 28, 2018 7:00:00 AM
Innovative Business Team

Innovative Business TeamMost companies put enormous effort into crafting, documenting and communicating strategy. Big strategy decisions roll down from above in an orchestrated cascade.

But in too many cases, there is little visibility into the myriad decisions being made to support the strategy. 

Execution decisions happen in an unmanaged daily churn of meetings, emails and side conversations. Ad hoc communications are the rule. Decisions are not tracked to compare results to expectations.

That has to stop. Decisions drive companies from strategy to action. They set the pace of business. Digital transformation means business innovation moves far too fast for successful leaders to allow out-of-date and undisciplined decision practices to continue. The future of work demands that businesses formally track their decisions.

Decision tracking increases transparency and accountability. It helps leaders improve overall performance, correct misalignments when they occur, and address delays before they cause problems. Decision tracking helps employees better understand how decisions are made, how those decisions align with business goals, and who the key decision-makers are for a specific issue. And tracking who is at the table making decisions can even help companies take action to ensure all levels are using inclusive decision-making to unlock the power of existing workforce diversity.

Top companies are already investing in change. Read on to learn how decision tracking drives innovation by enabling organizations to see faster, hear clearer and do better.

Track Decision Execution To See Faster

Because decisions drive action, the faster decisions move from discussion to execution, the faster everything happens.

But without a way to share and track decisions, there is no way to close the loop and ensure aligned execution. Because early decisions become the basis for subsequent decisions, miscues in coordination can have nearly invisible ripple effects that only surface once results start coming in weeks or even months after execution begins. At that point, the downstream impact of poor coordination is clear to see, but now everyone has to spend extra cycles figuring out what went wrong and then getting re-synchronized.

Keeping track of decisions creates a feedback loop for continuously improving decision results. Individually, each decision record helps to guide quick action to when results fall short. Together, decision records build a knowledge base for decisions across the company. By measuring what’s working and what’s not, leaders can manage and improve decisions over time.

Ensuring everyone has a north star that they are moving towards unites everyone with the same purpose and vision. Keeping a log of choices over time makes sure everyone stays on the fastest path to the destination.

Use A Single Source Of Truth To Hear Clearer

Most organizations end up playing the corporate version of the old "telephone game" because they don’t track decisions. When seven people leave a decision-making meeting, they take away seven slightly, or sometimes hugely, different understandings of what was decided and why. In every successive meeting where a decision is explained, it changes slightly (or quite wildly) from the original decision. And there is no clearer sign of a frustrated team member than hearing the out-of-the-loop signal: “This is the first I’ve heard that decision.”

Even when communication happens, it’s easy to forget decisions later. Not so long ago, I came out of a customer meeting with a hot idea for improving our cloud operations. I immediately fired off a question to our head of engineering along the lines of “why aren’t we doing this?” He could have wasted his time with a long explanation, or I could have wasted our time by calling a meeting. Instead, he just sent me a link to our record of the decision that included my feedback at the time. The memories came flooding back, and we stayed the course.

These inefficiencies and misunderstandings frustrate people up and down the chain. They are far too common, and they highlight the need to keep a single source of truth for decisions. A clear decision record shows a cohesive story of when and why the decision was made, and who was in the room making it.

There is no benefit to leaving everyone in a company to stitch together their own understandings of every decision, especially for global teams and remote workers. Consistent communication is required for aligned execution.

Delegate to Do Better

Business is a team sport, and winning teams make the best use of everyone on the field.

Teams outperform individuals because they focus more resources on a task, and also because the diverse skills and perspectives of different teammates eliminate blind spots and increase creativity.

But the bigger the team, the more management overhead is needed to keep people aligned and moving forward. Failure to track and communicate decisions increases these costs. Misaligned decisions can ramify across a company and tangle related projects in an endless web of meetings, emails and missed expectations.

Decision tracking is the key to scaling the power of team collaboration across a large company. Shared decision records have a profound impact on transparency and accountability. Leaders can delegate decisions to the edges where knowledge and motivation are highest, while still maintaining executive visibility and coordination between teams. Smaller decision teams can gather to represent larger groups and still keep everyone in the loop.

With a single source of decision truth, decisions are transformed from shadowy political battles to team problems to be solved for the greater good of the company.

Tracking The Most Important Business Data

Innovative companies run on information. But the truth is that decisions are the most important and worst tracked business data. Until now, we have failed to imagine what work would be like with a transparent view into the decisions being made across a company. If our robot overlords ever wrest control from us, it will be because we never overcome this very human failure of imagination.

Decision tracking creates a single source of truth to help companies flourish. Improved transparency and accountability gives executives confidence that the goals they set are being implemented by the decisions everyone makes. Everyone down the org chart knows they are empowered to decide without being blindsided. Teams deliver work that fits together and people react quickly when change is needed. Decision practices improve. Innovation accelerates.

What is the ultimate cost of not tracking your company decisions? If you don't know, you're already paying it.

Originally published on Forbes.