How to Improve Leadership Decision Making

How to Improve Leadership Decision Making
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Effective Leadership Decision Making
Very few important decisions are easy to make in today’s fast moving and complex business environment.  Great decision makers are committed to the quality of how decisions are made and their impact on the organization.  Leadership teams and organizations that can follow clear, structured, and healthy decision-making strategies move more surely and swiftly in the direction that makes the most sense.

The Cost of Bad Decisions
Improving the speed and quality of decisions can greatly enhance your business and managerial effectiveness. According to a recent McKinsey study, less than 50%  of managers think that decisions are timely, and 61% believe that at least half the time spent making decisions is ineffective. From a management perspective alone, the costs of ineffective decision making appear stunning.

Three Leadership Decision Making Categories
Knowing the type of decision you need to make, who specifically needs to be involved, what the criteria are for deciding and making the final call as a leader is not always straightforward.  Effective leadership decision making requires clarity, judgment and courage.  The first step toward improving leadership decision making is to categorize the decision you face.

Because decisions vary in importance and in the risk they pose, different decisions should be handled differently.  From the weightier to the lower-stakes decisions, here are three categories of leadership decision making that can help you move forward wisely.

  1. High Stakes Leadership Decision Making
    High stakes leadership decisions have a clear line of sight to the company’s current or future strategic priorities.  When the stakes are high, company leaders should follow a proven decision making process:

    (a) Craft a simple and agreed-upon problem statement that describes what you are deciding, what the decision will impact, and why the decision matters.

    (b) Agree upon the decision making criteria and the metrics for both success and failure.

    (c) Define clear roles and responsibilities , including who needs to participate in the decision, what each person needs to contribute, and what is needed for full commitment.

    (d) Separate the decision into manageable “chunks.”

    (e) Review and communicate progress frequently.

    A caution: it’s important not to get bogged down in perfection or detail.  When the stakes and levels of complexity are high, leaders rarely have all the information but will have to be satisfied with “just enough.”

  2. Cross-Functional Leadership Decision Making
    Cross-functional decisions require input from a variety of stakeholders and occur in a series of decisions that are interdependent. An example is the launch of a new product.  According to research by McKinsey, team collaborations account for 51% of the difference between success and failure regardless of industry.

    For a successful new product launch, multiple departments need to be involved and there needs to be a detailed, coordinated plan for success.  The challenge is to define the key points of collaboration and to avoid involving too many people at any one stage.  Beware of letting important decisions get bogged down with too many unnecessary levels of approvals.

    The idea in action: Map out the process as simply as possible and then use it to test a likely scenario with those who will be responsible for the decision’s success. Once you have learned and tweaked the process, set clear expectations, timing, and accountability.

  3. Low Risk Leadership Decision Making
    Low risk decisions typically occur frequently and appear rather routine.  In order for low risk decisions to be made efficiently and effectively, it is necessary to establish clear processes and responsibility.  It is often best to assign responsibility to those closest to the work.

    Be clear about how you want the decisions to be executed, when and where the decisions will be communicated, and how you will know if the decision is successful.

The Bottom Line
Effective leadership decision making creates shared accountability, empowers stakeholders, removes complexity, reduces unintended consequences, and improves decision making speed.  Companies that establish a clear process around decision making have a leg up on those companies mired in murky processes, ambiguous ownership of the results, overlapping responsibilities, and little accountability.

To learn more about how to create the alignment required for effective leadership decision making, download 3 Steps to Set Your Team Up to Make Better Decisions

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