A Game Plan to Achieve Organizational Grand Slams
By J. Frank Yates, professor of business administration and marketing at the University of Michigan Business School and award-winning teacher and author of Decision Management: How to Assure Better Decisions in Your Company
A tennis player's forehand looks like a single fluid movement, but it's a series
of actions. She grips the racket, gets in position, watches her opponent's
approaching shot, pivots her shoulders and hips, turns her foot, transfers her
weight, keeps her forearm parallel to the ground, holds the racket head at a
precise angle, draws back the racket, steps forward, shifts her weight again,
swings the racket forward, keeps her arm straight and her wrist firm, contacts
the ball and follows through with a long sweeping motion.
Decisions are made the same way. Each one is the last step in a series of
actions. However, many decision makers, like tennis players, are unaware of
these steps as they occur. And a mistake or miscalculation at any point in the
process can send a decision sailing out of bounds.
Decision Managers Influence, GuideEven though managers recognize their responsibility to make good decisions, participate in group decisions and influence deliberations that lead to other decisions, they seldom understand the underlying decision-making process or think about their role as decision managers. In this role, they influence and guide the people around them to make effective decisions that enhance the company's prosperity.
Managers typically neglect decision management because they don't appreciate its monumental impact. They also tend to have a superficial understanding of what decision making entails and how the people around them decide-like a tennis coach unable to break down a forehand into its component parts.
Decision management also is hampered by an interesting psychological phenomenon called "bolstering." When we make a decision, we internally enhance the positive aspects of our choice and denigrate the other options to alleviate doubt and discomfort with our decision. For this reason, people typically believe they are excellent decision makers and seldom scrutinize their own decisions. And when they do, they're biased. As a result, it's better to leave decision evaluation to the people who are affected by the action.
The 10 Cardinal Issues, which are covered in depth in my book Decision Management, provide a way to conceptualize the activities that lead to decisions. With this knowledge, managers can anticipate and avoid mistakes and help their staffs and colleagues employ effective decision-making processes. As a decision manager, it's important to engage people individually-one tennis player might need to adjust the way he pivots while another needs to change the angle at which his racket strikes the ball.
Decision-making procedures are ingrained in people, so a complete overhaul is unlikely to succeed. That's okay, because it's also unlikely to be necessary. Small refinements, based on the 10 Cardinal Issues, can make a profound difference.
I recommend you use the 10 issues as a framework for the ongoing, active and systematic examination of decision-making practices in your company. Evaluate how your organization and people deal with each issue, and whether it's the best approach. This type of review rarely occurs, unfortunately, because every crisis sends people scrambling for a solution rather than encouraging reflection on the decisions that led to the problem. When a key employee takes a job with a competitor, for example, managers work frantically to fill the void; they typically don't explore previous decisions leading to the climate that caused the prized employee to quit. This is tantamount to rescuing the survivors of a plane crash, then leaving the site without investigating the cause of the crash.
The goal of decision evaluation is not to blame or punish. It is to determine precisely where and why the decision-making process broke down in order to reduce the odds that mistakes will be repeated. It is to make us better and our companies stronger. The investment you make in adopting, modeling and advocating effective approaches to the 10 Cardinal Issues of decision making will be repaid many times over.
10 Cardinal Decision Issues
Recognizing and consciously considering the 10 Cardinal Decision Issues can
dramatically improve the likelihood of success. In brief, they are:
Deciding whether a decision should be made.
Companies constantly are confronted with events like these-problems to address and opportunities to exploit. Successful decision managers vigilantly monitor the business landscape so they can see these events unfolding and determine whether, when and how to initiate a decision-making effort.
Who will make this decision?
Managers must understand the numerous means of making decisions and
carefully apply them to specific issues.
What resources will be invested in decision making?
What are the potential responses to a particular problem or opportunity?
Methods for gathering potential choices include soliciting ideas from staff,
seeking input from a consultant, brainstorming and evaluating how other
organizations have responded to a similar issue.
What could happen as a result of a particular course of action?
Which of the things that could happen would happen?
How much would beneficiaries care, positively or negatively, if a particular outcome were realized?
Every prospective action has strengths and weaknesses; how should they be evaluated?
How can we get stakeholders to agree to this decision and the procedure that created it?
The decision has been made. How can we ensure it will be carried out?
Decision Management: How to Assure Better
Decisions in Your Company by J. Frank Yates is part of the University of
Michigan Business School Management Series. To order a copy, call toll free
800.956.7739, fax 800.605.2665 or visit www.umbsbooks.com. Remember to use code
UMB to receive your discount.