Effective decisions require clear thinking about information, commitment and potential conflict. That means clear thinking requires careful consideration about who should be involved in making the decision. Involving the right people can be the difference between a decision that advances the organization’s goals and one that results in ambiguity and inconsistency. These five questions can help determine if, and when, others should be involved in making key decisions.
How important is the decision?
In some decision-making scenarios, all of the poor choices have been eliminated, or making a less than perfect choice will have minimal impact. If there are no bad alternatives, it doesn’t really matter who is involved in gathering information. But in some scenarios, the available alternatives are unknown or the possible outcomes of the available choices are unknown. When alternatives are unknown or outcomes are uncertain, recognizing the need for information is critical.
How much do we know about the decision?
In some cases, decisions require analysis of existing information. Or we may know exactly what information is missing and how to get it. In other situations, we don’t even know what to ask: we don’t know what we don’t know. When this is the case, acknowledge ignorance, slow down, and involve subject matter experts in gathering information about the decision.
How much support do we need?
Sometimes, the commitment of others to the success of the decision is unnecessary or a given. Other times, we need active support. When building commitment is necessary, the decision maker needs to involve those whose active contribution is necessary to ensure a successful outcome.
How well aligned are people’s goals?
When commitment is needed from people who are driven by different goals and motivations, the decision maker must build consensus around both the need being met by the decision and the limits on what alternatives should be considered.
How much conflict is there about the decision?
If people bring strong feelings about favored alternatives to the discussion, the decision maker needs to allow the different parties the opportunity to share how they reached their conclusions and what information they used to arrive at their position. If the group agrees on the need being met by the decision, and how well each alternative satisfies that need, they can weigh the relative merits of each alternative against that standard, rather than argue the pros and cons of each favored alternative.
A lack of time can be a significant constraint, but it does not change our lack of information, or the need for alignment, commitment or conflict resolution. Taking the time to reach agreement on the need being met by the decision and establish measures for evaluating alternatives will ultimately streamline the decision-making process and reduce the total time required to reach a successful conclusion.
When time is not a significant constraint, effective leaders can use the decision as an opportunity for skill development. If time is available, participation in the decision-making process by team members who are not yet effective decision makers allows them to gain skills and experience. Doing this proactively can pay off when time is limited and an effective decision demands participation from others.
Involving other people in the decision-making process can be challenging and time consuming. Yet the alternative may be far worse. Research has shown that decision makers who follow these involvement guidelines have an 80% success rate – nobody is perfect. But decision makers who fail to follow these guidelines can expect to be successful only 32% of the time, far less than perfect.