Decision Making (or not)

Figure 1: Decision Making isn’t just reading the tea leaves.

Decision-making is a complicated process, and most people and companies do not have the will to implement rigorous decision-making protocols. Also, it’s not just guessing or following your gut. Those can be valid inputs to the decision making but if we don’t do better than that, we’re just reading the tea leaves (Fig. 1). There are many possible protocols, and none are a silver bullet for all decision making, but any company or person that cannot master decision making is doomed to meander and not achieve their full potential.

One of the most insidious examples of poor decision-making is the ubiquitous “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” This is a decision not to make a decision! You might as well play the slot machines at the end of the row in Vegas.

A more subtle example of decision-making problems is the human tendency to procrastinate. Procrastination is a decision not to make a decision. It is a decision to remain stagnant. People are often afraid to make decisions, and this can be one reason for procrastination.

There are many reasons for this fear. Here are six. I’m sure you’ll think of many more.

Six Reasons People Don’t Decide

  1. There is a fear of loss if they make the wrong decision.
  2. People are afraid that if the decision is terrible, they will be blamed for the failure.
  3. People are afraid of deciding because of the uncertainty it imposes.
  4. People are afraid of deciding because of the unknown consequences of the decision.
  5. People are afraid of deciding because it requires them to stand up and be counted.
  6. People are afraid of deciding because it requires them to take decisive action and implement the decision.

The common denominator for lack of effective decision making is fear which leads to procrastination is fear. But, we might be able to put a more positive spin on this fear that leads to procrastination.

Dan Sullivan, author, and co-founder of Strategic coach, has an interesting take on procrastination. In his view, procrastination is a sign that you should heed very carefully as a guidepost that you are on the wrong path. And, it would be best if you took that sign to mean you are probably not the right person for the job at hand that you are putting off. In a case like that, you should find someone who loves doing what you are putting off. There are usually people like that that you can find. Dan calls these his who’s and leaves the how to them.

Perhaps we should tune-up our procrastination sensors and decide to find whom to do the jobs we don’t want to do. That might make the world a little bit better place!

My work and thinking about Decision Making has spanned many projects, processes, and projects. Here is an example that I use for team meetings. Here is another example that I use for post-mortems after complex multi-stakeholder projects. I have been leveraging Integrated decision-making to run company operations for several companies. I picked this up from my research into Holacracy and Sociocracy. I created a multi-stage decision engine that combines. Also, I have found the tool called the Impact Filter and its little brother the Fast Filter extremely valuable. Then, there is another process called advice-seeking that is very useful. When you combine those (Fig. 2) and realize that, from an integrative decision-making point of view, that you do not need consensus but to understand objections, things get very effective!

A Decision Making Process Flow

Fig. 2 — A Decision Making Process Flow

Next on the topic of decision making, I will talk about the above process I’ve used successfully and how I integrated it with other processes to form a complete and very flexible decision-making framework. If you do this well, it’s not hard it’s just a few basic steps and takes a little practice. If you can get a team or company to do this or something like it that team or company will have a significant advantage.