5 ways to help you and your team make faster, smarter decisions
Speed is a competitive advantage – now more than ever. Especially when it comes to making decisions.
Research by McKinsey shows that moving fast is critical to accelerating performance, especially in times of disruption. Speed helps organizations outperform their competitors in terms of profitability, operational resilience, and business growth.
But what makes or breaks organizational speed?
Analysis paralysis – the compulsion to anticipate every possible scenario, to make sure all risks are resolved – gets organizations stuck. By collecting infinite data and running endless analyses at the expense of acting, organizations fail to land (into a conclusion).
A decision has to be made. The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of decisive action. Acting quickly will give your company an edge.
1. Inaction is more harmful than imperfect decisions
Anxiety, muscle tension, quick tempers, fast heart rates, and even panic attacks can happen when we are about to make a decision. No one is immune to these symptoms, even if some experience them more subtly. However, inaction is even more harmful than getting caught in the vicious cycle of decidophobia.
Avoidance doesn’t get the issues to run away. As World War II US Admiral, William F. Halsey, said, “All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them.”
Start by considering the cost of inaction. Ask, “What’s the impact of not making this decision?” Capture your answers considering one week, one month, and one-year scenarios.
Inaction is not a risk-free choice; analysis paralysis is really expensive. Startups move faster because they have little to lose — large organizations, not so much. The paradox is that by trying to protect their current status, companies miss many opportunities.
In one of his famous “Letter to shareholders,” Jeff Bezos explains how Amazon deals with this challenge, “Our senior team is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision-making environment is more fun too.”
Amazon’s founder acknowledges that his team doesn’t have all the answers; understanding that decision-making is a not-so-perfect process is crucial.
Bezos recommends integrating the scope and capabilities of a large company with the spirit and heart of a small one.
“So, have you settled only for decision quality, or are you mindful of decision velocity too? Are the world’s trends tailwinds for you? Are you falling prey to proxies, or do they serve you?”
Avoidance works on very few occasions. Intentionally delaying a decision makes sense when there’s a lot of ambiguity or when delaying a decision won’t create a negative consequence. However, most of the time, a decision has to be made.
Confront the fear of making decisions. When your team gets stuck, ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
2. Move faster with safe-to-try decisions
There’s no such thing as a perfect decision. The right decision made at the wrong time won’t do you any good, either. Speed and timing are everything.
It’s okay to take time and reflect. However, letting an issue stew forever is a sign of procrastination, not of effective decision-making. Adopting “safe-to-try” decisions will help you move forward rather than waiting for the perfect solution.
While evaluating whether or not a proposal should be accepted, have your team address this question:
“Will the decision move the team backward, or cause harm which cannot be mitigated promptly?”
This Litmus test helps validate a proposal by addressing every team member’s objections. It’s about building consent (not consensus) by addressing if people can tolerate/ accept a decision even if it’s not their preferred choice.
Basically, can people live with the decision, or does it fall in the “no way” zone?
Small dose decisions can quickly build up momentum, helping overcome fears. Software development form Atlassian believes that Momentum, not perfect decision-making, is what leads to success.
As described in this post, “The sooner you make a decision, the sooner you can act on it and get the date you need to determine whether the path you chose was effective. If we spend all our time agonizing over making the best decision, we never get the momentum that comes from acting and iterating on them.”
Decisions are never definite, unlike analysis-paralysis.
Smart organizations adopt an agile, test-and-learn mindset when making decisions. As Virgin’s Richard Branson said, “In business, if you realize you’ve made a bad decision, you change it.” That’s the spirit behind safe-to-try decisions. You can always course correct.
3. Integrate emotion, intuition, and rationality
Large organizations get bogged down with data, which gives entrepreneurs acting on intuition a competitive edge. The point is not to dismiss the value of data but to integrate rationality and emotion.
In Understanding Emotion at Work, Stephen Fineman describes organizations as “emotional arenas” — their intense emotions both divide and bond their members. Leaders usually fail to integrate both the cognitive culture and the emotional culture.
As Fineman notes, we can’t separate our calculative decisions from our intuition. Numerous studies show that emotions shape intent and behavior in conjunction with cognition. To overcome the fear of making decisions, we must integrate our emotions, not suppress them.
Feelings lubricate, rather than impair, rationality, according to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. They help us make choices – people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated can’t make a simple decision like choosing “chicken or pasta?”
Evolutionary organizations (“Teal”) use multiple sources to inform their decision-making process, according to the author of “Reinventing Organizations,” Frederic Laloux.
Teal organizations such as Buurtzorg, Morning Start, and AES, take the following sources into account:
– Rationality: They consider rational, analytical approaches to be critical, but not the only source.
– Emotions: They recognize the power of inquiry: “Why am I angry, fearful, ambitious, or excited? What does this reveal about me or about the situation that is unfolding?”
– Intuition: Reality is usually ambiguous, paradoxical, and non-linear. We unconsciously connect patterns without realizing why. Intuition uncovers wisdom in surprising ways.
– Paradoxical thinking: Rather than trying to eliminate paradoxes, Teal organizations embrace them. This requiring shifting the corporate mindset from “either-or” to “yes, and…”, integrating concepts that might feel opposing.
Smart decision-making requires integrating intuition, emotions, and rationality, not choosing one over the others.
4. Commit (even if you disagree)
Even the soundest decision will fail if there’s no support behind it. Leaders can’t be hesitant – full commitment is required for success. Team members must stand up too and support the decision, even if they disagree.
“Safe-to-try” decisions aim for consent to move forward, not for consensus.
Amazon uses the “disagree and commit” approach. It’s okay to acknowledge that not everyone might be okay with a decision. What’s not okay is not standing behind a call once it’s made.
This phrase will save you a lot of time, according to Jeff Bezos. Disagreement is helpful, but, at some point, will people gamble with you on it? Will they disagree and commit? No one can predict the outcome of a decision for sure. However, when everyone commits, the odds are on your side.
Atlassian applies the “disagree and commit” method, too. You may never get your whole team to feel wonderful about a decision, but everyone should commit to supporting it once it’s made.
As Atlassian’s Matt Russell wrote, “It’s healthy to disagree, offer up your perspective, and support it with data. But at the end of the day, we agree to rally around the decision and work to make it successful, regardless of whether we prefer it or not.”
It’s always better to commit to a safe-to-try decision that to obsess over making a perfect one.
5. Don’t worry about what you don’t know
Decidophobia – the fear of making decisions – is also driven by the fantasy of control. As human beings, we can’t deal with uncertainty, thus trying to control even what’s out of our hands. By worrying about what we don’t know, we get stuck in fear and endless analysis.
Milton Weinstein is generally credited for introducing the field of medicine to the concept of rigorous decision-science. This method uses a fundamental question: “What should we do, given that we have imperfect information?”
Making effective decisions is not about answering every possible question or eliminating all risks, but to make the right choice with imperfect information.
Jeff Bezos believes that most decisions should probably be made with around 70% of the information we wish we had. Waiting for 90% will not only slow you down, but also hinder momentum. Acting quickly also requires becoming good at recognizing issues and course correcting – that’s how you prevent an imperfect decision from turning into a bad one.
Of course, some decisions might require more data and analysis.
There are many decision methods, depending on the complexity of the problem at hand. Each might require a different approach. However, most decisions are “reversible, two-way doors,” according to Bezos. Those can use a light-weight process.
Focus and act based on what you know – the 70% of the information needed. You’ll discover the other 30% along the way, once you’re implementing the decision.
Analysis paralysis not only slows teams down, but it’s also expensive. Inaction can cause companies to lose an opportunity; action, on the other hand, can save you a lot of costly, endless meetings and data analyses.
Do you need help improving how your team makes decisions?
Reach out and let’s discuss how we can help you.