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Blog: Quote
  • Writer's pictureTara Rethore

Recast Uncertainty as Decisions to Advance Strategy

I have never tracked how often I encounter a decision point. Neither have I measured the balance between substantive and material decisions, and the myriad and varied tiny, insignificant decisions I take daily. It seems that decision points are simply everywhere and constant.

The same is true for the executives I advise. No matter what they do, who they are, or the context, the ability to take both timely and quality decisions is critically important to success. Most leaders manage simple decisions as a matter of routine. More complex decisions, or those where less is certain, are far more nuanced.

Sometimes the last thing a leader wants is to face another decision. Yet in my experience, it’s easier to run the business by framing opportunities and challenges as decisions. That gives the entire team the chance to respond more productively to information or circumstances.

What will you do as a result of knowing or facing this situation?

Framing challenging situations (positive or negative ones) as decisions reduces the time spent spinning or discussing. Instead, that time is devoted to focusing explicitly on the things that can be controlled or influenced to create a better result. This is powerful.

Three critical things effective leaders recognize about making decisions:

  1. Decision-making is not problem solving. You must still think through the problem (or opportunity) carefully, gather data, and consider multiple points of view. Incorporate decision tools (e.g. matrices, pro-con lists, cost-benefit analyses) into the process to help make sense of possible options, choices, or solutions. In that way – making it easier to sort through the data and ideas – decisions can facilitate problem solving.

  2. All types of decisions benefit when teams know the rules. Having a clear, accepted decision framework provides a common lexicon about how the decision will be taken. It also helps the rest of the team to know how they should contribute. Do they have a say in the decision? Are they providing input only? Who owns the decision? In my experience, knowing who’s in charge and my role makes it easier to accept the decision, regardless of whether I like or agree with the decision.

  3. Not all decisions are created equal. Different situations and types of decisions call for different ways of deciding. Many of us are familiar with the four basic decision models – autonomous, consultative, consensus, or majority. It’s important not only to choose the model that best fits the situation or circumstance, but also to tell people what model you’ll use – before taking the decision. In my experience, that clarity and transparency vastly improves the likelihood others will accept or honor the decision, too.

Typically, choosing between bad and good options is relatively easy. More often, the decision is between multiple things that are attractive or exciting. Knowing how to prioritize or let go of things that are relatively less good is much more difficult. And, this is when having clear rules for decision-making, tools to support the decision process, and a habit of being explicit about how these will work in each circumstance can really help.

The next time you encounter a complex or less-certain challenge or opportunity, recast it as a set of decisions. By making the choices explicit, it’s easier to identify potential actions to advance your strategy. Bonus: you’ll improve both the speed and the quality of the decision you take.

Enhance strategic decision-making for yourself and your team using the Effective Decisions Tool© in my book, Charting the Course: CEO Tools to Align Strategy and Operations, available on Amazon.


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