Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, after a failed software project that was nick-named by clients as ‘nagware’, decided to uncover how they made poor decisions to what appeared to them as a sure business winner.
“The path to good decision making is narrow, and it’s far from straight,” they said.
Keeping in mind the pitfalls can make any leader a more effective decision maker. We agree that it’s a balancing act to get the right qualities of each habit perfect for each decision. Let’s start from the top…
1. Avoid laziness
Check facts, take the initiative to robustly test assumptions and gather additional input. Past experience may not suit new situations.
2. Anticipating unexpected events
It is discouraging to consistently consider the possibility of negative events in our lives, and so most people assume the worst will not happen. Unfortunately, unexpected things happen fairly often.
Our brains leap to conclusions and are reluctant to consider alternatives; we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of a situation. We use our first impression as the base line and find it difficult to view the decision from a completely new angle. Many people get so emotionally invested in their initial conclusions that they never take the time to consider the risks.
There is excellent research demonstrating that if people just take the time to consider what might go wrong, they are actually very good at anticipating problems.
3. Be decisive
At the other end of the scale, when faced with a complex decision that will be based on constantly changing data, it’s easy to continue to study the data, ask for one more report, or perform yet one more analysis before a decision gets made.
It takes courage to look at the data, consider the consequences responsibly and then move forward with a decision.
Oftentimes, indecision is worse than making the wrong decision. Doing nothing may be riskier than doing something.
4. Free your thinking from the past
Some people make poor decisions because they’re using the same old data or processes they always have, which may be no process at all. Such people tend not to look for approaches that will work better because the process they use has been good enough until now. Another related issue is the presence of misleading memories.
The simple answer is to involve someone external to challenge rose-coloured memories; someone who has no inappropriate attachments or self-interest in your club or organisation.
5. Strategic alignment
Bad decisions sometimes stem from a failure to connect the problem to the overall strategy. In the absence of a clear strategy that provides context, many solutions appear to make sense. When tightly linked to a clear strategy, the better solutions quickly begin to rise to the top.
6. Clear roles and responsibilities
Some decisions are never made because one person is waiting for another, who in turn is waiting for someone else’s decision or input. Death by committee.
Effective decision makers find a way to act independently when necessary. Better still, define people’s roles and allow them to act within the scope of those roles when appropriate.
7. Connect with others
Effective decision-making recognises that involving others with the relevant knowledge, experience, and expertise improves the quality of the decision. People who do not value networking or are too proud/shy to ask for help do not have the capacity to draw on other people’s expertise when they need to.
8. Access to technical depth
Organisations today are very complex, and even the best leaders do not have enough technical depth to fully understand multifaceted issues. We continue to find that, when the best boards and executives don’t have the technical depth to understand the implications of the decisions they face, they make it their business to find the talent they need to help them.
When decision makers rely on others’ knowledge and expertise without any perspective of their own, they have a difficult time integrating that information to make effective decisions. They have no way to tell if a decision is brilliant or terrible. Strategic learning is important. That is, strategy alerting board and management as to upcoming skills that may be required.
9. Adopt a robust decision-making model
A clear decision-making model that is routinely followed will improve not only the quality of decision papers being written but how board members consider their vote.
Some good decisions become bad decisions because people don’t understand or even know about them. Communicating a decision, its rational and implications, is critical to the successful implementation of a decision.
Get the right input at the right time. A strategy is critical in understanding the timing of knowing when this input is necessary. When should you have that first discussion meeting? How long will Project X take from the first sketch to the launch date?
Integrated Governance can assist your club or organisation with strategy creation and governance training to help your board and management make better decisions.