Strong decisions are based on good (and complete) information.
Early in my career, people would complain at the water cooler that Sr. Leaders were making all the wrong decisions. When I brought this up to my mentor, she told me that Sr. Leaders can only make decisions based on what they were told. She said it was our job, no, it was our responsibility to filter out the minutia and present the information in a way that strong decisions can be made.
Over the last 30 years, I have learned that 99% of the time people don’t hide the necessary information but rather the information they have access to falls into one of three buckets;
Bucket 1 – Prioritizing which information is most important to share
Everyone, from the front line worker to the CEO, must work on providing the right information at the right time for decisions to be made. My mentor used to tell me that all information isn’t equal yet all information can be useful. Some information while good, may not be necessary to make a decision. You have to decide which is relevant to pass on.
And yet, sometimes we provide the right information and the decision still doesn’t go as we planned or in our favor. If that’s ever happened to you, you may want to consider revisiting the data set and ask yourself the context you provided the information. Did you select the right data set? How can you improve your presentation of the facts for next time? Sometimes the data gets lost in the messaging.
Bucket 2 – Summarizing the details into an actionable story
What happens when you have presented the right information and no decision is made? In those instances it’s possible that your “ask” was lost or maybe you didn’t really ask for a decision. Leadership may not know you need a decision. A best practice is stating the decision needed with options/recommendations.
Sometimes simply asking for a decision may be what is needed. Remember, you’re living in your details whereas your boss is mired in theirs – they aren’t necessarily the same. Case in point, a CEO at an automotive company I reported to had his day broken into 15 minute segments. When I went to see him I kept my story to the essentials and focused on the ask/action/or result of our conversation. If he required more details, he’d ask. Which leads me to my last point.
Bucket 3 – Understanding what information is needed for a decision to be made
How many times have you watched a presentation meander on with no point in sight? I once knew a lead engineer who’d start a meeting by telling each presenter, “Start with the last sentence first” because he wanted to know whodunit. He wanted to read the last chapter of the book and know if the Butler was really innocent?
In those instances when you find yourself the subject matter expert in a subject and everyone is looking at you for the data. Take the time to think through the decision tree (maybe even flowchart it) for your boss. Present the options (good and/or bad) and results (good and/or bad). This will speed up getting a well vetted decision. Don’t get tripped up in arcane information but have it handy if the decision maker(s) need it.
In summary, everyone absorbs information differently: pictures, verbal, written. Find what works best for your audience and present accordingly. We are all part of the information flow that drives decisions. Think about how you can do your part to ensure the right decisions are made at the right time.
Your team is connected by a string of decisions. Sometimes, you can see how the decisions connect – like the passing of a baton. Other times, decisions are separated like a cat batting a ball of yarn around the room. But that does not mean they are any less connected.
I recently saw the movie, Everest and before I got from my theatre seat to my car seat I had at least 10 business analogies. (Ok, so I just can’t “hep” myself.) Everest was a perfect storm example of how “yarn ball” decisions can lead to the failure of the team. In the movie, it was loss of life. In a typical manufacturing day it could be a failure of safety, quality, shipments, or cost performance.
We all make decisions;
- Some small (Do I eat healthy at lunch?),
- Some big (Do I want to get out of bed today?),
- Some with ramifications (Eating healthy) and,
- Some without (Maybe they won’t notice I’m not at work today? ;-)
Foundational to our decisions is trust that everyone does what they said they would. Our assumptions guides our decisions and our communication propels our decisions.
The movie got me thinking about some key points to remember as you make decisions…
If your decision takes you outside of your normal processes, you must step up the communication of that decision. You cannot “over communicate”. Many times those are the decisions we tend to down play, not wanting to bring attention to the fact we had to work outside the normal paths. However, that is exactly when you must communicate so that everyone else’s decisions can support.
Always keep the overall goal in sight. Small decisions (made in the immediate), over time, can take you further and further away from the optimum goal. Keep coming back to the goal. Base line your decisions to the big picture – not to what you decided yesterday.
The Sub-Optimal Yarn Path
We are not perfect. I know, shocking, right? That is why there are processes and procedures. That is why you
have a team. Let’s say you made a decision that did not work out perfectly. Assess and redirect course. It is never the first mistake that defeats the goal, it is multiple bad decisions or what I call the “Yarn path”.
I have learned that for some decisions, a 100% success rate isn’t going to happen. Yet, you may have made the best decision based on the facts at the time. We do not have “crystal yarn balls” to read the future. Just cause things did not work out perfectly does not mean you made a bad decision. Instead – figure out what the next right decision is, make it and drive forward.
Do the next best right thing. Align yourself to your overall goal. Be intentional.
Close up detail of “Stained Glass in Strassbourg” Painting by Jay Holobach
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
Isaac Asimov, quoted in the Highland County, Ohio, Times-Gazette
We all have assumptions. Whether in our personal lives or work lives, we can’t function without assumptions. The foundation of our decisions is a mix of fact and assumptions. Assumptions are neither a good or bad. They are not bad as they speed up our ability to react, they allow us to work when there are no complete answers, they help us process the complex. They also are not strictly a good thing. They can overly taint reality, they can make facts less understandable, they can cloud our vision when assumptions are communicated as facts.
Understand clearly what your assumptions are and question them every once in a while. Make sure you own them, that they do not own you. You will make better decisions if you do.