Decision-making: Winning leaders make great calls

Robert Mandeya:People management issueS

DOES it take forever in your organisation for decisions to be made? Is it an environment where everyone wants to be involved in the decision-making process and no decisions are made until everyone says yes?

Learning the art and science of business decision-making will certainly improve the quality of your decisions. In this installment I will explore the four styles of decision-making — autocratic, participatory, democratic and consensual — and reveal which styles are best suited for specific situations.

Recognising that ambiguity is a part of any decision-making process, I will also attempt to highlight the four types of ambiguity you will face so that you can recognise what you do not know in order to reduce risk and plan for contingencies.

This is my second installment on decision-making and I felt given the importance of this imperative on any successful leader, particularly at this point when many a leader are grappling with solutions to overcome the catastrophic Covid-19 effects, there is need to revisit this issue and proffer in-depth fundamental processes involved in decision-making.

In their popular book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, leadership experts Noel M Tichy and Warren G Bennis (Portfolio, 2007) assert that judgment is the essence of leadership.

Over the last couple of years in training, I have found that my most successful executive coaching clients exercise exquisite judgment. They also tend to be very clear in their decision-making.

Unpacking decision-making
It is important to realise that decision-making is actually a process, and it is the process of selecting a choice from a range of possible options, with the goal of achieving a very specific objective. Now contrast that with judgment. Judgment is the ability to form an opinion or reach a conclusion based on available information plus prior experience.

So as you go into making a decision, there are some important principles to keep in mind. First, be clear about the objective. You need to understand what you are optimising for or trying to achieve as you make that particular decision.

Second, decide who gets to decide and who does not. Be clear about who is going to be involved in the decision-making process.

You need to define who to involve and how to involve them. Some people are going to provide input, other people will provide perspective on implementation, other people will actually make the decision, and having clarity of roles is critical for successful decision-making.

Dealing with ambiguity
Next, you will need to reduce ambiguity and risk as much as is reasonable before making your decision. The way to do that is to gather information, but realise that gathering information takes time, and as you are taking that time, new sources of uncertainty are going to emerge. Next you will need to make your choice and make that choice known to the organisation.

Tell people you have made a decision, what the decision is, and why you made it. And then last, once you have made the decision, you need to evaluate and adjust based on new information.

So the decision-making cycle involves the following steps: preparing to make the decision, actually making the decision, communicating the decision, executing the decision then evaluating and adjusting the decision accordingly

Defining the decision
The first step in the decision-making process is clearly defining the decision you are going to make. There are some key questions you should be asking as you are defining the decision.

First, what is the desired outcome? Is there a specific metric that you are trying to drive? What are the choices that we are trying to make? And, what are the possible choices that we can choose from? You need to articulate when do we have to decide? As well as thinking through, who is this decision going to affect?

If you do not go through these steps of defining the decision, you are going to have unclear objectives.

In deciding the introduction of bond notes in Zimbabwe am not sure if government and RBZ authorities considered these question. Anyway that is a discussion for another day. In the absence of such a process it may lead you to make a bad choice.

If you do not define all the possible alternatives, you might miss a great opportunity.

Further, not being clear about timelines, or who is going to be involved, is going to increase risk, it will cause confusion, and it is going to frustrate people in the decision-making process. In training on this subject I often give participants examples of live decisions that pass the test of clearly defined decisions and those that could not withstand this test.

And by going through the step of clearly defining the decision, you definitely will be able to successfully make a decision up front and execute it well on the back-end. So as you go to make your own decisions, think through this set of five questions and drive that clarity of the decision you are trying to make.

This is an extensive topic, which cannot be exhausted on this space but suffice it to say that in decision-making you should help balance the trade-off between speed and accuracy of decision-making. I would have loved to touch on the styles of decision-making, stakeholder management in decision-making, and the actual decision-making, but alas!

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.