If you make decisions by consensus, you waste a lot of time. But if you make decisions without sufficient involvement, you won’t gain the cooperation and commitment you need for subsequent steps and successful implementation. How do naturally clear leaders thread this needle? They consciously, or intuitively, follow these seven rules:
1. Process matters
If people trust and embrace the decision process, they are more likely to trust and embrace the decision. What makes a decision process trustworthy?
- Those who will be affected by the decision know what is being decided.
- They understand how the decision will be made and are confident the right people will be tapped at the right time.
- They know how to participate.
- They believe those making the decision are informed and working in the best interests of the organization.
- They know how to influence the process if it seems to be going awry (e.g., suffering from uninformed decision makers)
2. Process doesn’t just happen — someone needs to own it
The natural inclination of most people is to dive into content without first establishing a process. Someone needs to get ahead of the game and explicitly establish and communicate distinct outcomes, steps, and roles that honor the characteristics of a trustworthy decision process.
3. There are only two reasons to include others in any decision
You should only involve people in a decision if you need their smarts or their commitment. While people often fall in both categories, those who only belong to the first group are experts who can help you make a smarter decision. You tap their smarts, not their emotions. The second group consists of people whose behavior is essential for supporting the decision. They absolutely must understand what, why, and how their support can make a difference. You must tap their smarts as well as their emotions.
4. Time is of the essence
The time spent on any decision must be in proportion to the potential impact of the decision. Don’t convince yourself that everyone will be affected by every decision. That’s a lazy abdication of responsibility. It wastes too much of everyone’s time and all your employees know it.
Furthermore, time is often a luxury you don’t have. Windows of opportunity often open and close too fast to allow for inclusive decisions, no matter how consequential. In these cases, you will need to rely on good explanations and your reputation as a champion of transparent and trustworthy process.
5. Different people may be needed for different steps of the process
The reason for establishing clearly defined steps is two-fold and mostly unrecognized, or at least under appreciated:
- Too often, decisions are expected to emerge from a jumbled series of conversations where participants are rarely actually talking about the same thing at the same time. A disciplined process honors the natural, logical, and sequential steps in any decision (SOAR: Statement, Objectives, Alternatives, Risks). By making these distinctions and proceeding one step at a time, you focus the collective brainpower and never fail to achieve discernible progress.
- Once you think in terms of these four steps, you realize that roles vary depending on the step. For example, an executive may need to approve the objectives with input from implementers, but may then be ready to walk away and trust the rest of the decision to others. The people in the trenches may be best positioned to generate alternatives. Those most affected and accountable for results may be best positioned to select the most promising alternative. And experts may be the best choice for identifying risks. Establishing process steps before diving in is the only way you will successfully involve the right people at the right time.
6. Representation must be explicit
You can’t always include everyone who is affected in a decision. The numbers may be too great, the time too short, or the importance unworthy of that investment. The answer is representation. A clear, fair, and transparent process is a prerequisite for allowing one group to represent the interests of others. Both steps and roles must be explicit. People tend to speak only for themselves. If you want someone to work on behalf of others, you must explicitly and repeatedly make that clear to both parties.
7. Authority must be transparent
There are few feelings worse than investing your physical and emotional energy in making a decision only to have your conclusion overruled. All decision participants need to know who is making the final decision. Are they providing input, feedback, making the decision themselves, or helping to drive a group to consensus? Is the ultimate approver an individual, a boss, a small group, or a large group? There is no right answer. There isn’t even a preferred answer. But the answer is important. The answer depends on the time available, need for expertise, importance of the decision, number of people affected, and potential repercussions. Regardless of the approach, clarity is critical. Be honest and crystal clear.
As people become accustomed to fair, transparent process, especially once the entire organization has a culture of clarity, you’ll find more and more people are content to leave decisions to others and trust they will be called upon as needed. Productivity and empowerment increase with clarity. Use these tips to develop fair and transparent decision making processes.
This article first appeared on Forbes, July 23rd, 2017.