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How To Tell When Decisions Need Extra Attention

Erik Larson Jul 26, 2018 10:22:40 AM

When do decisions need extra attention?The lightning pace of change driven by digital transformation means decision making is more important than ever before.

This rapid churn puts more pressure on leaders’ decision practices in many ways:

  • Decisions are slowed down by too many meetings with people who get more and more busy as the speed of business increases.
  • Leaders don’t always communicate decisions to people who weren’t “in the room” when the decisions were made.
  • And teams don’t consistently follow up to track how results compare to expectations, or they forget why decisions were made in the first place, making it hard to learn from them after the fact.

In short, most organizations don’t track and improve their decision practices with the same discipline applied to other business activities.

This is a huge mistake. When decisions are tracked and managed in a systematic way, they can be systematically improved. More visibility can improve the speed and quality of decisions and allow decision making to be more easily delegated to the edges of the organization where on-the-spot leaders touch problems directly. Better decision practices drive faster innovation and better performance.

How can you tell which decisions need the extra attention?

A Decision Rubric

Today’s companies are flooded with real-time data and instant communication, and leaders seem to hammer out a constant stream of decisions too fast to keep track of. All decisions are not created equal -- only the most important decisions need to be actively tracked.

The simplest rule of all is to start tracking the single most important decision you make each week. Set a 15-minute block on your Friday calendar to review the upcoming week and note down the most important decision you need to make, including who should be involved, who should be informed, when to decide and when to follow up on results.

Important decisions that involve and impact other people go best when actively managed right from the start. To determine if a decision is important in the moment, leaders can ask themselves these three simple questions:

  • Should this decision be tracked for future reference? Tracking decisions helps executives remember why they made decisions in the first place and ensure adjustments are made quickly when things don’t go as planned. This is pertinent for decisions with strategic impact; those that change policies, processes and procedures; and financial, security and risk management decisions that may need to be audited down the road.
  • Does this decision need to be communicated beyond the people in the room? Decisions seem crystal-clear in the immediate afterglow of a great discussion, but that’s only true for people who were there. Everyone else needs a clear explanation. This is especially true for decisions made by smaller groups that affect many other people, including leadership and project team decisions, delegated decisions and matrixed decisions.
  • Can decisions like this one be improved over time? When your organization repeatedly makes similar decisions, improvements to the speed and quality of your decision practices deliver a compounding improvement to business performance over time. These decisions often include those with results that are relatively easy to measure and assess, like agile projects, product, pricing, marketing, sales and even hiring decisions.

If you answer “yes” to any one of these questions, then it makes sense to actively track and manage the decision.

Getting Started

Decisions are fundamental to any organization, and it is important to track them as a shared source of truth. Just as organizations track their customer, people, and financial records as essential business data, they also need to track their decision records. This ensures crisper execution, stronger accountability, and faster innovation across all aspects of the business.

You can start with something as simple as keeping your own decision log, following the simple rule of tracking the single most important decision you make each week. If you plan to improve decision making across your organization, a decision practices assessment is helpful to benchmark your performance against other companies and highlight investment areas with the most impact. If you’re curious and want to learn more, check out more of our blog posts about how the decision revolution is changing business leadership.

Truth Or Consequences

Most companies have a blind spot when it comes to tracking decisions. Decisions are an essential information asset for any business, but few organizations actively digitize their decisions. As a result, decision practices have been left stuck in the past, untracked and unmanaged.

These outdated practices underlie many of the problems of the modern workforce. Executives still rely on tangles of meetings and emails to drive decisions, which slows down work, overloads inboxes and calendars, and makes misalignments and miscommunications inevitable. Decision makers spend time “cat herding” to wrangle the right people to make key decisions. Decisions get rehashed and re-ligated, and corporate amnesia is a natural result when information is poorly communicated beyond the immediate decision team.

In the past, the boss was the single source of truth. But today’s executives are steeped in a fast-moving business team culture that requires a better way to keep everyone informed. A shared digital record closes the case on the what, why and who of past decisions. This saves time, improves communication beyond the decision-making team, and closes the execution loop to ensure effective decisions and high business performance.

Adapted from an article first published in Forbes.