The Most Used Process in Your Company is Also the Most Abused

People can help each other most easily when they share an little girl learning to tie shoelacesunderstanding of the process underway, completed steps, and next steps. This holds true whether you are helping a youngster tie a shoe or helping your company prepare the annual budget. I call this shared process clarity.

Unfortunately, one of the most common and consequential processes people use is also the most abused: decision-making.

If your reaction to that statement is “Process?” my point is made. Every decision requires four basic steps. Unfortunately, most people muddle all steps into one messy, often prolonged, conversation. That’s like making the “bunny ear” loops before doing the “first part of a bow.” When it comes to decision-making, shared process clarity is extremely rare.

The good news is that the decision-making process is pretty simple, universal, and rewarding! Once you have a shared understanding of distinct steps of decision-making:

  • Decisions will be faster and better
  • There will be less stress and frustration
  • Employees at any level will be able to participate more easily
  • Commitment will increase
  • Whiners, domineers, and generally “difficult people” will become far less conspicuous
  • You will involve fewer people over all and more of the right people at the right time
  • Delegation will be easier for both managers and employees
  • You will save tremendous time

To create shared process clarity for decisions, you must SOAR through decisions!

1. S is for Statement

State the decision that needs to be made. Sounds ridiculously simple, I know, but I guarantee you will be amazed at how often you and your colleagues do not make the same statement. You may think the decision is whether to develop a new product while your colleagues want to decide how, how soon, with what objective, and under what conditions. While all of those decisions may need to be made, being explicit creates the clarity that puts everyone on the same page making the right decisions in the right order. This simple step will save your company thousands of hours every month, if not every week or day.

2. O is for Objectives

Determine the objectives. These are the decision criteria that must govern the decision and will allow you to assess the quality of your options. They include priorities as well limitations such as budgets, resources, and time. Some are just “wishes” and some are “musts.” And their relative importance matters.

When you hear people going around and around trying to nail down pros and cons or advocating for a favorite idea, it’s because they haven’t agreed on objectives. If you can’t agree on objectives, you will never agree on an alternative.

Consciously treating this as a distinct step will save even more time than Step 1, and that’s saying a lot! Furthermore, it will also improve relationships and bolster commitment because a good conversation about objectives, priorities, and limitations allows everyone to get their concerns on the table and find common ground.

3. A is for Alternatives

Alternatives are the ideas you are selecting among as you make your decision. This is the step people never skip.

That doesn’t mean they do it well. The biggest mistake comes from considering too few ideas. The first ideas that come to mind are always driven by recency, pet peeves, and old habits. Crash through those barriers by generating lots of ideas quickly and without judgment. Don’t rely on the same old gang. Tap some fresh eyes.

Once you’ve generated a great list, decide which best meets the objectives established in Step 2. Once you’ve SOARed a few times, you’ll be delighted to see how quickly this process can go and how rarely personalities, baggage, and politics enter into the equation.

4. R is for Risks

After you’ve identified the top alternative or two, it is time to step back and assess the risks associated with the best idea(s). This is another frequently skipped step. (That makes 3 of 4 that are routinely skipped!) But smart decision makers know that it is important to pause and ask yourself a few question:

  • What could go wrong?
  • How likely is such a problem?
  • How serious would it be should the problem occur?
  • If serious or likely or both, what can we do to prevent or minimize its likelihood?
  • What can we do to minimize impact should the problem occur despite our best efforts to prevent it?
  • Can we live with the risk?

Despite a great process through steps 1 to 3, it isn’t rare to pull up short and toss out an alternative that seemed most promising. Unfortunately, the world is full of examples where no one took the time to consider unintended consequences, but ran with an exciting idea instead. Netflix comes to mind. They suffered a massive departure of subscribers and a stock plunge of35% when they split their streaming and DVD service and raised prices. Somehow I doubt they answered these questions.

It’s a simple process, though it takes some time to master and instill the habit. But, as my yoga teacher, Rodney Yee, says, “If you continue to practice the rewards will be truly magnificent.”