You sit and wait around for a decision to be made, for you to get on with a task, but it drags on. How hard can it be? The ability and willingness to make a qualified decision is vital for competitive organisations. Anette Zobbe dissects the anatomy of decision-making.
If, after 25 years in public and private project organisations, I have to choose one super-important competence for managers, then it is to be skilled at making decisions. Organisations that can make informed choices at all levels are far better placed to deliver the goods than the decision-hesitant one.
Being able to manoeuvre and act in changing conditions while maintaining the necessary balance between quick, intuitive decisions on the one hand and time for reflection and further study on the other – for me that is the essence of being great decision-maker. Those who have formally the mandate to be decision-making are not necessarily adept at making decisions.
There can be many reasons why people are hesitant to make a choice. Maybe there will be a big problem if the decision is wrong. Then it’s the organisation and its culture that’s wrong. It may also be that staying calm does not have any consequence – so why put yourself in the firing line? It may also be the individual’s mindset that leaves something desired. Both organisational and personal challenges can put decisions in a queue and slow down progress.
Let us take a closer look at decision-making considerations at the organisational and personal level. We start with the nearest one: yourself.
This is what the leader responsible for the decision-making looks like:
1. When is the responsibility yours?
First of all, decision-making is about being aware of your responsibilities. One must understand that making the right choices is not just middle managers and directors’ job. Project managers, design authorities, specialists and many others will also often be in situations where they are the most qualified to make a decision.
Formal managers who do not outsource decisions and employees who do not make decisions are a bad combination. So, when is the responsibility yours and when should the matter be escalated? You must keep balancing that. You cannot just hide from this responsibility.
2. When and how should the decision be made?
If responsibility is yours, do you have the knowledge to make a decision? You can often make quick and correct decisions because you have all the knowledge available and your intuition and experience are sufficient to make a decision.
Fortunately for that, because otherwise we’ll never get anywhere. Often action must be taken here and now, and progress must be ensured – with good results to follow. But when should you involve others to get more perspectives on the topic?
Is this necessarily a decision to be made right now, or is there time to investigate further? It can be difficult to figure out. That is why it is important to express doubts and trust that it is OK to point to a problem without having the answer. Our decisions often impact other parts of the organisation, and we should make sure that knowledge is available first. Therefore, one must evaluate the consequences of the decision for related tasks and conditions and other factors between project, operation, and strategy.
3. How do you handle mistakes?
Should it happen that a decision turns out to be wrong – then the decision-making expert will realise it, reflect on the situation, and learn from it and then be ready for a new decision-making process – and possibly involve others. There is no need for (self-)blame, explanations, or defence mechanisms. But there is a need to pass on relevant learnings to others who might benefit from it.
There are situations where it is not actually possible to acquire sufficient knowledge before, we make a decision. No matter how long we wait, we will not be wiser, because only by making a decision will we move forward, and only by moving forward will we become wiser. The decision-maker knows this and is ready to handle it.
And what about the decision-making organisation?
Even the most capable decision-maker cannot act optimally in an organisation with a “blame game” culture. A decision-making management team with openness and focus on learning regularly discusses the organisation’s assumptions. In contrast, a dysfunctional management team typically explains away, hides its doubts, and rather refrains from making choices.
There is also room to deviate from the methods when required in a decision-making organisation. An intelligent and experiential assessment is required to ensure that a given situation is handled with the most appropriate techniques, tools, and best practices. The methods must be our servants, not our masters, and members of the organisation must also have the will and the courage to make an independent choice. It requires both the right professional skills, but also the overview to navigate between them.
The decision-making leader in the decision-making organisation can, will and therefore will be allowed to make the best possible choices in any given situation. This means that sometimes mistakes are made, but mistakes can also create momentum when you learn from them and adjust the course. Thus, decision-making is an important ingredient – and supports the agile approach of project organisations.
Strengthen your decision-making skills with the right course:
The better you know the tested methods and best practices, the better equipped you are at making an informed decision about when you follow them and when you deviate from them. At Peak, we offer a wide range of certifications in best practices both as courses and e-learning: