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.
A good decision manager, like a good tennis coach, can help players understand
this process, work through each step and consistently make winning decisions.
This is critically important because a company's health is tied directly to the
quality of the decisions made each day throughout the organization.
That's right. Effective corporate actions result from superior decisions, which
in turn rest heavily on solid decision management practices rather than luck or
general business acumen. Despite this, corporate leaders seldom attribute
successes and failures to decision making or even consider how their companies
make decisions. This is unfortunate, because the actions all managers take-or
fail to take-have a profound impact on how the people around them make
decisions. These managerial actions and behaviors constitute decision
management, a powerful tool for managers at every level.
Every decision requires the resolution of 10 fundamental issues. When I present
this concept, corporate managers and MBA students often are taken aback. They
say, "Wait a minute! You expect me to implement a 10-point checklist every time
I make a decision? I'd never get anything done."
No, that's not what I'm saying. These 10 Cardinal Issues (see page 15) are not
new tasks or responsibilities. You already confront each of them every time you
make a decision, whether you realize it or not. And your likelihood of success
improves dramatically when you recognize and consider how to resolve each issue
better than you normally do. Otherwise, good decisions are left to chance and a
competitive advantage is lost.
Decision Managers Influence, Guide
Even 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
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.
- A company receives a request for a bid on a large project.
- A competitor releases an upgraded product.
- Customers increasingly complain about poor service.
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
Who will make this decision?
How will they decide?
- Should a particular decision be made by a senior executive or delegated (perhaps even to a computer)?
- Is a consultant's expertise needed?
- Should a committee be convened?
- If so, who should serve on it and what process should they follow?
Managers must understand the numerous means of making decisions and
carefully apply them to specific issues.
What resources will be invested in decision making?
Decision makers must weigh the material resources needed to make a
decision-direct expenses and staff time, for example-as well as the
emotional costs, including stress, conflict and uncertainty in the
What are the potential responses to a particular problem or opportunity?
The goal here is to assemble and evaluate options in a way that
- Unearths the ideal solution (or one close to it).
Wastes minimal resources.
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?
Managers must foresee outcomes that are likely to be important to
beneficiaries and stakeholders in the decision. Many decisions fail when
these parties-including employees, customers and neighbors-are blindsided by
adverse outcomes the decision makers failed to even consider.
Which of the things that could happen would happen?
Decisions are shaped by predictions, opinions and projections; it's
important to evaluate their accuracy and determine how much weight to give
them. The quality of these judgments improves markedly as the number of
people participating in the process increases-particularly when the
participants provide a variety of viewpoints.
How much would beneficiaries care, positively or negatively, if a particular outcome were realized?
Different stakeholders may have dramatically different values regarding an
action and its outcomes. The intensity of these values determines whether
they will take action supporting or opposing the decision.
Every prospective action has strengths and weaknesses; how should they be evaluated?
There are formal "tradeoff tools" that can help with complex decisions. In
most cases, when this issue is resolved, the decision is made.
How can we get stakeholders to agree to this decision and the procedure that created it?
It's critical to identify groups that might object to a decision, why they
feel that way, whether they can derail the decision and how to preclude such
The decision has been made. How can we ensure it will be carried out?
A decision that is not implemented is a failure. It's important to
recognize, and prevent, circumstances that can cause this to happen. Such
circumstances include failure to allocate adequate resources to the
initiative, failure to assign a senior manager to champion the project and failure to provide incentives that ensure staffers will make implementation
a high priority among their responsibilities.
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.
To contact Yates directly, send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.