As organizational leaders or managers we may feel comfortable with the decisions we make. However, it can be helpful to recognize what constitutes “good” decision making, and also the fact that “how” we make decisions is just as important as the decisions themselves!
In a recent post we shared common traits among the best decision makers.
But looking at the decision-making process from a different perspective, there are pitfalls as well!
In a Wall Street Journal article, Robert I. Sutton, a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and co-author of “Scaling Up Excellence,” shared some interesting and important insight into this aspect of decision-making.
He first explains that, as noted above, how leaders make decisions (the process) is just as important as what decisions they make.
Then he shares four specific pitfalls associated with the decision-making process that can compromise a leader’s effectiveness as well as the effectiveness and attitudes of people throughout the organization.
The first of these pitfalls involves telling people they have a voice in decision-making when, in reality, they don’t.
“Good decision-making entails consulting key stakeholders—and using their input to shape final choices,” Sutton said. “Doing so improves the quality of the decisions and makes employees more motivated to implement them.”
“Unfortunately, in too many cases the consultation of others is only make believe… it starts out looking like the real thing, but in the end leaders are just pretending that others’ input has some influence over the final decision.”
While the motivating force behind the make-believe-consultation can vary — some bosses do it to fool people into getting behind the decision’s implementation, and others because they think the mere opportunity to voice opinions somehow makes people feel better — it doesn’t matter. In the end, pretending to consult others for decision-making purposes and then ignoring their input turns out to be demoralizing. Further, the associated deception and disrespect often causes employees or stakeholders to lose faith in their leaders.
Next on the list is the poor habit some leaders have of “treating final decisions as anything but!”
“Many insecure bosses have a habit that is especially damaging: After a decision has been made and communicated and implementation has begun, their insecurity compels them to revisit the choice too soon and too often. A few complaints, a small early setback, or simply anxiety about the decision can provoke such unnecessary reconsideration.”
Sutton goes on to explain that the insecurity and waffling “infects their teams.” In addition, many of the people involved lose faith in their leaders’ ability to make good decisions, and also lose interest in implementing new directives that could soon become subject to change.
Moving too fast is the third pitfall. While some leaders suffer from indecision and procrastination, some decisions require more careful thought— “especially risky, important and complicated ones that are costly (or even impossible) to reverse,” Sutton says.
Despite the fact that employees most often like working with managers who are confident and don’t waste time, they are also leery of snap decisions, which are likely to turn out wrong. These decisions are also more likely to undermine employees’ faith in their leader and the decision, and can make employees less motivated to implement the decision. It’s the difference between a smart, confident decision and a rash one, possibly made without proper research or without sufficient facts and data.
Finally, using decision-making as a substitute for action is a waste of time.
“A decision by itself changes nothing” says Sutton. Simply “deciding” to change a protocol or process doesn’t help unless someone actually does it!
The gap between “knowing” and “doing” is real, yet too many leaders act as if, once they make a decision, and perhaps spread the word, their work is done.