How to Make Better, Faster Decisions

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Published 6/20/2015

Bad decisions can ruin an organization and kill careers. Have you been given feedback that you need to improve your decision making? If so, you are not alone. Managers often get poor grades from  360-degree feedback assessments in the quality and timeliness of decisions areas.

Decision making, like any other managerial or leadership skill, can be improved. The first step to improvement is awareness of a problem, and the only way to uncover any potential decision making blind spots is to ask for feedback.

See “How to Get Candid Feedback” for ten ways to get candid feedback. In addition, you could meet with a number of direct reports, peers, and your boss and ask the following questions:

1. As an organization or team, are we clear on who is responsible for making key decisions?

2. Are there bottlenecks? If so, why?

3. Do I get the appropriate amount of input before I make a decision? Too much? Too little?

4. Do I gather the appropriate amount and quality of information? Too much? Too little?

5. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the quality and timeliness of my decisions? What would it take to go from ___ to ten?

6. Review a few recent decisions – were they right? Were they executed well?

Just be sure to brush up on your listening skills first.

Once you have a baseline, it’s time to learn about decision making from the experts. Who do you know that always seems to consistently make the right call in a timely manner?

Talk to those people, and find out what process and rules and thumb they are using.

Talking to others doesn’t always help, as many people that are good at something are “unconscionably competent” and can’t teach others what they do well.

In addition to learning directly from others, here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to share with leaders to help improve decision making:

1. Be clear on what you are deciding. A “decision statement” is a clear and accurate decision of the decision at hand. The most common mistake people make is that they frame their decisions too narrowly, often as an “either-or” choice. For example, “Should I buy a new car?” offers only two choices – yes, or no. A way to expand this decision statement could be: “Which type of vehicle should I buy?” Or, to broaden it even more, it could be, “Decide on the best means of transportation.”

Always start with a decision-making statement, and run it by a few others to make sure you’re asking the right question before you start evaluating options.

2. Decision criteria. When you have the right criteria, it’s easier to evaluate alternatives. For example, for the car purchase decision, criteria could include cost, style, gas mileage, and safety. This is another opportunity to ask key stakeholders for criteria, especially if the outcome of the decision will impact others, or if you will need the support of others to implement.

3. Establish clear decisions roles. The lack of clarity over who has ultimate decision authority, versus who should just provide input is probably the biggest single organizational decision-making bottleneck.

For complex, big decisions, involving multiple functions, regions, or partners, use the RAPID model (developed by Bain & Company). For big decisions, establish who is the:

R = Recommend: The person responsible for making the recommendation to gain approval for the decision.

A = Agree: Anyone who needs to agree with the decision.  Similar to an “I”, but with more power and influence.

P = Perform: The person who actually has to carry out the decision (often left out of the decision, but stuck with the mess).

I = Input: Anyone who should give input to the decision.

D = Decide: The person with ultimate and final decision authority. There should only be one D, not multiple Ds or no D at all.

4. Clear your mind. Most people think they can multitask, but when they do, they run the risk of making poor decisions.

Big decisions require focus and clarity. “Mindfulness” is the new buzzword, and there is substantial research to show the importance of being present and focused when making decisions.

5. Review the decision with the “anti-you.” A suggestion from organizational psychologist Nick Tasler. According to Tasler, “The vast majority of judgment errors can be eliminated by simply broadening our frame of reference. The quickest, easiest, and most effective way to do this is by consulting an ‘anti-you’ before you make a decision.” Another term used to describe “anti-yous” is “PNLUs,” or “people not like us.” Getting diverse perspectives will usually generate more innovative solutions.

See “11 Ways for Leaders to Encourage Innovation from Their Employees” for more on generating innovative alternatives to decisions.

Try a few of these techniques and others. With continuous practice and feedback, the quality and timeliness of your decisions should begin to improve.