Decide How to Decide
Over the past three weeks we have focused on how to have a meaningful conversation based on Joseph Grenny’s book, Crucial Conversations. A productive conversation creates a free flow of ideas into a shared pool of meaning. But the only way people are going to share is if they feel safe. If a person doesn’t feel like you care about them (respect) or what they desire (goals), they will not readily present their ideas. When ideas are withheld, decisions are made on partial information at best. Of course, the way we talk about our ideas, the way we couch our positions is critical to keeping the conversation safe and free flowing. But once we have mastered the way we talk to one another, how do we make decisions?
Dialogue is NOT a decision.
Wasted Meetings: Have you ever been in a meeting that bats around a lot of good ideas, everyone gets fired up, but when you leave nothing happens? Ever felt like you wasted your time talking because no direction was decided upon? Dialogue is necessary, but so is decision making. We often fail to move from ideas to actions because of unclear expectations, decisions that are too broad and not specific enough, or there is no follow-up and accountability. How do you move beyond conversation in a timely and productive way? You have to decide how you are going to make a decision.
Decide How to Decide: While many times it is clear who the decision maker is, often times it is unclear. Who decides if a child is to be held back, the school or the parents? Who decides if someone is going to be promoted in the company, the CEO or the management team that is going to work closely with that person? Who decides if you are going to have another child, you or your spouse? Who is going to decide to fire a CEO, the board or investors? When people don’t decide how they are going to decide, frustration ensues. People tend to fight for dominance and safety breaks down resulting in information not flowing freely. Often when someone is asked their opinion, they become indignant and hurt if their idea is not implemented. This, too, will lead to future breakdown of crucial conversation. When a group decides how they are going to decide it puts everyone at ease so that they can make timely decisions without stirring up unhelpful emotions.
Command, Consult, Vote or Consensus: There are basically four methods for decision making; Command, consult, vote and consensus. Command is often used for easy decisions that fall under senior management or has been delegated to a person. These decisions are made without the involvement of others. No dialogue needed, only decision. Consultation is when input is gathered from the group and then a designated person or persons make the decision. Voting is when an agreed upon percentage swings the decision. This should only be used when efficiency is the highest value and when all the options are generally thought to be good. Consensus is when everyone come to agreement and then supports the final decision. Consensus should be used when the stakes are very high and issues complex, or when absolutely everyone must support the final decision.
How to Decide How to Decide: How do you know which decision making process to use at any given time? There are four key questions that can clarify how to proceed. 1) Who cares? Who are the stakeholders? Who will the decision affect in a significant way? It is a waist to have anyone at the table who doesn’t care. I have seen too many times when a large group is discussing mutually important issues when two or three people start talking about issues with which the rest of the group is uninvolved. The rest of the groups starts looking at their watches and rolling their eyes. Respect everyone’s time by having only stakeholders at the table. 2) Who knows? Who has important knowledge to contribute to the decision? Sometimes that means bringing in outside experts. The main thing is that you want people to have something worth saying, who aren’t talking out of a hole in their head. 3) Who must agree? Who do we expect to carry out this plan? Who has position and influence important to implementing whatever we decide? No one likes to be blindsided by decisions made without them, especially if they are expected to carry them out. 4) How many people is it worth involving? The goal should be to involve the fewest number of people while still considering the quality of the decision and people needed to support the decision. Do you have the right people to make a good decision? Do you have the right people whose commitment you need? Once you have those in the room, shut the door! Too many people makes for overly prolonged, time-wasting, and frustrating meetings. Deciding how you are going to make decisions will pave the way to decision-making that has the main stakeholders, those with expert knowledge, and those who are needed to move the decision forward around the table.
Logistics: Logistics is about putting decisions into action. Moving from the meeting to the work isn’t difficult, but requires four things. First, who is going to do what? ‘Everybody’s business is nobody’s business’. Put a name to each piece of the action. Second, what are they to do? Be exact with the deliverables. Vague principles yield bad results. Don’t leave too much room for interpretation. The group that spends valuable time making decisions deserves to have them executed as decided. Third, when is the deliverable do? Putting a time limit on the action is important. When there is no time limit, ‘tomorrow’ becomes the mantra and it never gets done. Finally, follow up. Accountability of some sort is critical. All of us perform better when we know someone is counting on us, and is going to ask us how we if we are finished. Accountability shouldn’t be cumbersome requiring long reports and red tape. Rather, a simple email, call or informal meeting will usually do the trick.
Moving Forward: For business, friendships and family to move forward, decisions must be made. Deciding how to decide is the most respectful approach to move from dialogue to action. Figure out who needs to be involved to make the most informed decision and to carry out the succeeding plan. Good luck, good conversations, good decisions, and God’s blessing!