Decision Making For Dummies
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In a business environment of complexity and uncertainty, excellent decision-making skills are paramount. Employees, customers, and others touched by a company's actions respond to what they trust — ethical decision-making in business has become a strategic asset. Learn how to communicate decisions effectively, how to make faster and more informed decisions on the fly, and how to incorporate your core values into your decision-making.

11 questions that help you communicate decisions effectively

When you’re communicating a decision, you need to know that you have successfully communicated the basic message. You also want everyone on the team to share an understanding of what the target results are so that, in the event that something unexpected happens, everyone knows what to do. The worst time to find out that you and your team are not on the same page is after you’ve communicated a decision and tasked your team with implementing that decision.

Communication failures take place when

  • The aim of the decision, its purpose, and what is to be accomplished aren’t clearly communicated.

  • Expectations aren’t made clear. You have expectations for how it should be done and what it should look like, but you fail to take into account your employees’ and other stakeholders’ views and concerns.

  • The words you use mean different things to different people and are easily misinterpreted. (As the communicators, it’s your responsibility to learn what words work and what don’t.)

  • Communication doesn’t happen often enough, so course corrections are presumed to take place but get missed.

  • You and everyone else assume that the communication has been effective.

Getting your message across effectively is a matter of confirming that all understand the aim or purpose of the decision, as well as what’s expected. It’s especially important when you’re communicating the implementation of an important decision. To offer clear direction to your team, start with gaining clarity on what’s going on inside your brain.

Answering these 11 questions enables you to deliver a clear message:

These 11 Questions . . . . . . Elicit these Benefits
1. What is to be accomplished?
2. What is the result and why?
Knowing the answers to these questions enables you to
communicate the message effectively to your team.By doing so, you enable them (1) to improvise independently when
there’s a need to adapt, and (2) to incorporate new opportunities
for attaining the goal as those opportunities arise — without
having to gain your permission, which slows things down.
3. What are your expectations for what happens next?
4. Is there anything you don’t want your team to do?
5. Is there anything you specifically want your team to do?
Outlining the parameters helps clarify both the expectations
and the boundaries for independent or creative thinking.
6. What could possibly go wrong? Or ‘What if” . . . this or
that happened?
7. If something were to go wrong, what would you expect team
members to do?
By anticipating the unexpected, you reduce the risk while
simultaneously preparing for it.
8. When do you expect your team, staff, and anyone else
involved in the implementation process to communicate to you?
9. What feedback do you need in order to stay abreast of what is
10. How do you want to hear about unexpected surprises —
through a phone call or email, or at project update meetings?
Keep your team apprised of new developments so that they aren’t
working in the dark. Agree on when they need to keep you informed
on how implementation is proceeding, whether it’s good or bad
11. If you were the one listening to your message rather than
delivering it, what else would you want to know?
Putting yourself in your team’s shoes allows you to take a
vague bit of direction and make it more clear and specific. You can
also identify relevant information you need to communicate
throughout the project.

5 steps to faster, more informed decisions

Can you make decisions swiftly and confidently when vast amounts of data cross your desk and inbox every day? How do you prioritize and rapidly respond in the midst of changing conditions? Well, you use the skills you already possess but may not be tapping into.

Here’s an interesting correlation: The way you process information as you drive a vehicle works for making an informed decision, as well. If you drive well enough to be 98 percent accident-free, chances are you’re already a master of processing tons of data at high speed: You select pertinent information almost automatically and then use the information quickly and accurately. If you apply that innate skill to your decision-making, you can make informed business decisions without second guessing yourself.

To sort from a sea of information, do these things:

  • Focus on the outcome.

    Being clear about the end point does two things:

    • Provides guidance for your intuition, enabling you to sift through all the available information to select what’s important for the decision you need to make

    • Gives you a solid anchor for your decisions that can accommodate opposing facts and perspectives

    If, for example, the end point is to stay under budget, then your decision and the data you use to inform your decision will be filtered based on that. If the end point is to produce a product that meets customers’ unstated needs, then all the available information will be filtered using that criterion. The outcome anchors your decision making.

  • Stop mentally concentrating on the issues and let your subconscious do the work for you.

    Your subconscious is faster than your conscious mind, and it works automatically when your focus is clear. When you turn the issue over to your subconscious, you gain speed and accuracy.

  • Question and expose the beliefs you use to interpret how the world works.

    Beliefs, otherwise known as mental models — things you believe to be true but that may not actually reflect a widened view of reality — filter reality to confirm your previous experiences.

    Questioning your beliefs permits you to improve the accuracy of your analysis, jettison past connotations, and open up new possibilities.

  • Observe your emotions.

    Step back to gain perspective and quiet the mental chatter so that you can accurately hear your inner voice. You’ll gain a wider view of the situation and be able to see alternatives.

    It’s really easy to fall prey to doubt or to rationalize your decision. If you’re feeling fearful, you may think you have only one option or no options. In climates of high fear, when the rational dominates, making an informed decision requires that you achieve a calmer state of mind so that you can access your higher mental and intuitive functioning.

  • After you analyze and review your options, select your decision, but before you commit, check in on how you feel about the option you’ve selected.

    Call it a heart check. Even when the solution is a totally new approach, you need to feel at peace with it.

Making an informed decision requires that you work with both facts (actual data) and emotional information, and that you take steps to mitigate the effect of ingrained bias. Doing so requires that you commit to mastering all your senses and intelligences so that, in chaotic decision-making environments, you’ll be able to balance data with open-minded experimentation and stay sensitive to cues that other decision-makers will miss.

Incorporating core values into decision-making

Core values reflect what is important to your company. They serve as the unshakeable foundation for what your company stands for in good and bad times. When integrated into decision-making, core values are part of decision-makers’ mindsets at every level in the company.

Consider core values the nonnegotiable part of your company’s reputation, sustained by the commitment of executives and employees at every level to live those values in their decision-making and in their relationships with company personnel, customers, suppliers, and communities.

Core values express your company’s core priorities and its commitment to, for example, making the environment and social health integral parts of management and operational thinking and perspectives.

To identify your core values, ask questions such as the following:

  • To gain clarity on what you feel is critical:

    • What does your company stand for?

    • What values express what is important and essential to how you operate and why your company exists?

  • To gain insight on how your values permeate internal relationships:

    • How do your employees describe your company’s core values?

    • Why do they work for you and not the competitor down the street?

  • To gain clarity on how your customers view your integrity and how your values are expressed through your action:

    • How would your suppliers or customers describe your values?

To become a company that uses value-based decision-making to anchor decisions, you need to reflect on and identify what your company’s core values are. To do so, take a close look at what is going on in your company. Core values — whether they were thoughtfully created or not — are embedded in your company’s priorities, actions, and management decisions, and in its relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment.

When you incorporate your core values into your decision-making, you enjoy these benefits:

  • In a business climate where customer testimonials define your reputation and attract loyalty, integrating your core values with decision-making and action offers stability, particularly when conditions are chaotic.

    Novo Nordisk, for example, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, has a list of core values, as many companies do. It includes words accountable, responsible, and ready for change. That’s all well and good, but the important thing about core values isn’t what’s on the poster in the hall of a company; it’s how they’re applied. When Novo Nordisk makes decisions, the final check is, “Is the decision financially, environmentally, and socially responsible?” Simply put, the company’s commitment to core values — the health of the economy, environment, and society — is a recognized part of its long-term success.

    Unilever is another company that connects core values to priorities. Recognizing that the company is a part of a wider fabric of existence, its decision-makers actively engage a wider view, one that embraces the company but also extends beyond company boundaries into the health of society, communities, and the environment.

  • When your company’s decisions are aligned with its core values, you streamline decision-making. When used for decision-making, core values take a complex set of conditions and run them through a simple filter so that financial and nonfinancial measure of success are intertwined. In a complex, fast-changing business environment, decision-making needs to be streamlined and progressive, and decision-makers need to look ahead rather than rely solely on past beliefs and practices.

    The solution isn’t to get rid of past practices altogether (although it may mean that); it’s to be aware of what guided decision-making in the past so that you can select faster, more effective approaches to meet today’s needs.

About This Article

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Dawna Jones generates imaginative insights and applies 25 years experience in helping businesses and organizations make bold decisions. She co-designs the future of organizations, transforming them from "business-as-usual" to inclusive cultures of prosperity.

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