Hang up the Zoom. Exit the board room. Mute that Slack. We need to have a chat. Why now? Because odds are you’re about to make a bad decision. I don’t necessarily mean the decision itself. It’s just that your decision making process (is it even a process?) is probably not leading you to the best decision. And better decisions save time, drive better results, and keep everyone working better, together.
In fact, as we’ve been building Hoop and learning about different businesses' struggles and needs, we discovered that many of these businesses are actually grappling with the same problem - how they are making decisions. We’ve distilled seven mistakes and have identified how to fix them.
The seven biggest decision making mistakes companies make:
- 🤔 Ambiguity over scope of decision
- 👍🏾 Lack of agreement on "stakes" of the decision
- 📆 Lack of due date
- ❓ How a decision is made
- ✅ Ambiguity over decision rights
- 🤝 Having the wrong meetings
- 📄 Not documenting decisions
Let’s take a look at each one and what can be done to facilitate better decisions.
Remove ambiguity from the scope of your decision
Ambiguity can wreak havoc on the decision-making process. It's that feeling of not quite knowing what you're trying to accomplish, or not having enough information to make an informed choice. But fear not, there are ways to overcome ambiguity and make decisions with confidence.
The first step is to clearly define the decision at hand. What specifically are you trying to accomplish? Here are some steps to bring clarity to the situation and make sure everyone involved is on the same page:
- Identify the specific problem or opportunity
- Clarify your goals
- Provide relevant information
Next up, consider the anticipated outcome. Visualize the potential consequences of each option, positives and negatives, and assess which aligns best with your goals. Don't forget to think long-term, taking into account any potential unintended consequences. But what if you don't have enough information? Don't let that stop you from getting started. It's better to begin the decision-making process with the information you have and iterate as you learn more.
Agree on the stakes of the decision
Recognizing the stakes of a decision is crucial to making effective choices. It's important to understand that not all decisions are created equally, and some carry more weight than others. Higher stakes decisions require extra attention and careful consideration. These are the decisions that can have significant and lasting consequences.
On the other hand, low stakes decisions can be made quickly and with less scrutiny. These are the decisions that are unlikely to have a major impact on the outcome, and therefore can be made with less time and energy.
When considering the stakes of a decision, it's important to also recognize whether it's a one-way or two-way door. For example, choosing to hire a new team member is a one-way door decision, as it has long-lasting effects. In contrast, deciding to try out a new communication tool is a two-way door decision, as it can be reversed or changed later on.
Decisions need reasonable due dates
Often when a question turns into a decision there is an impulse to hop on a call and hash it out right in that moment, and for many small decisions this is often the right thing to do. Some examples might be around whether a piece of content should be published on the company blog today or the next day, or a more urgent matter like whether a newly released product update with a major bug should be rolled back.
This doesn’t work for decisions with larger and longer term impact that require input from a larger group of stakeholders or more information. Too short of a timeframe and you can’t gather enough thoughtful opinions, but too long and momentum will get lost or there won’t be enough time to implement the decision.
Use deadlines to create accountability for everyone involved in the decision making process so that you can make the best decision possible in a timely fashion from the information at hand.
Have a decision making process (Really!)
One of the most major decision making mistakes is lack of process. As mentioned earlier, low-stakes decisions like “What are we going to have for dinner at the team offsite?” might be able to be quickly decided during a team meeting or over Slack, but as the stakes get higher, decision making can benefit from a more formal process even if it is just a light weight process.
In any decision making process there are seven key steps:
- Identity and define the decision to be made
- Gather relevant information from relevant stakeholders
- Identify the various options and alternatives
- Weigh the evidence for each options
- Select an option
- Implement the selected option
- Consider the outcomes and iterate if necessary
There are many different decision models to implement this process that are out there like DACI, RACI, ARPA, etc. At Hoop, we use the consent based model for decision making, which we believe is the best way to move fast, learn, and iterate. Overall, by following a clear decision-making process and regularly evaluating potential outcomes, you can make informed choices that lead to positive outcomes for your team or organization.
Decisions need ownership
How often has an important decision that could impact how you do your work or how you plan for the upcoming quarter just lingered in corporate purgatory unresolved? Often decisions lack ownership both as the person who is responsible for keeping the decision process moving forward and who is empowered to make the final call. Just like a deadline, a clear owner for a decision is key to keeping the inertia going and getting it resolved within a reasonable amount of time.
One important thing to take note of is that the owner of a decision is not always the decider of the decision and these are clear roles that need to be defined before you begin the decision making process. Oftentimes the person closest to the information at hand around the decision should be the owner and decision maker, but for some one-way decisions or high level business decisions where the decider would be someone in a leadership position.
Meet less and meet more effectively
When I started this blog post with a call to hang up the Zoom and exit the conference room, I was serious. Too much of the decision making process is being made synchronously in meetings and that can have negative outcomes on both team productivity and quality of the decision.
When decisions are being made synchronously in a meeting whether on video chat or in a room there is a high risk of introducing bias and groupthink. This is especially true for the parts of the decision making process that involve gathering options and weighing in on each option, because oftentimes the loudest voice in the room or those in a leadership position tend to win out, while diverse ideas and opinions tend to get drowned out.
A good rule of thumb is quick decisions (where should we go for lunch?) don’t need meetings at all, and bigger decisions (should we change our pricing and subscription model?) should only have meetings to drive alignment once everyone has weighed in and to share finalized decisions with a wider audience. However, you should also share decision outcomes asynchronously as well, which better allow for questions and discussion.
Document decisions openly
Unfortunately, too many important decision outcomes are often lost in chat threads, email chains, and meeting notes, because many organizations lack formalized documentation and a source of truth for past decisions. This leads to wasted time digging around trying to find answers and confusion down the line as new hires wonder why certain choices were made in the past.
A well documented decision making process not only alleviates confusion, but it is also a wealth of options, data, and information that can save valuable time when applying learnings and iterating upon past decisions.
Phew! While it might seem like a lot, fixing these common decision making mistakes will actually wind up saving you tons of time and headache in the future. I know that well formed habits can be hard to break, especially when working with a bunch of other people, but it all starts with identifying when a discussion starts turning into a decision and then implementing these steps to make the change.