In talking with some of my consulting clients and readers of this blog, it hit me that I should be a little more specific about ways to improve decision-making, especially in the areas of business and technology change. (I would also be delighted to talk with you more privately; contact info is to the right). This is my first attempt writing this here, so please bear with me.
I have found the key is to look at decisions from a new mindset.
To start off, what exactly are ‘decisions’? Especially, 'strategic decisions', which are those meant to have a significant impact.
We tend to describe decisions as discrete events or moments in time. These events may occur at any time or place: during meetings, playing golf, or driving home. They may be recorded and circulated as contracts, memos of understanding, or budget approval forms. They may be ‘sealed’ with handshakes or speeches, but not necessarily. Decision events are meant to set the stage for future action, and spending time and money. Most of us can’t recall many strategic decisions, as we tend to remember only the ones that worked out really well.
I do not believe this is an accurate or useful definition. It is better to think of decisions, not as events, but as ‘strings’ of ideas, goals, perceptions, and expectations; they look more like processes than discrete events. Decision processes may occur over a few hours or several years; others just seem to happen. Their beginning and end is often nebulous, but there are always markers along the way to use as measures and guideposts. 'Made' decisions cannot be assessed until there is feedback on their implementation. (Reminds me of the famous slogan of the state of Missouri: "show me”.)
Most decisions are really intentions. To use a personal example, "I told everyone last night that I have decided to quit smoking," is not a decision. It is a statement of intent. "I have put down a deposit on a quit-smoking program" shows a more serious intention, but it is still not a decision (as I define it).
The problem-solving team that met at work to identify root causes, prioritize alternatives, and assign actions did not make any decisions, although this is how their work is represented to their bosses and fellow employees. They developed a shared understanding of the current situation and a set of well-meaning intentions about an unknowable future. No more, no less. Intentions are weak proxies for decisions because they are grounded in human hopes and desires, and fade or change easily.
In reality, our decision process begins long before any decision-making meeting or stated intentions. The process is strongly influenced by implicit or sub-conscious factors, both in the mind of the decider and in his or her environment. The explicit understanding of key factors, such as stereotypes, has a huge payoff for more productive decision-making.
More to come... Let me know what you think so far. Thanks.