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Reimagine decision making to improve speed and quality

Inefficient decision making wastes time, money and productivity. As leaders respond to today’s paradigm shift, companies can pursue four actions to adopt and sustain high-velocity decision making.

Guides organizations in the private, public, and social sectors as they put more effective operating models in place and transform performance across the enterprise

Leigh Weiss

Helps boost organizational effectiveness by optimizing organization design, leading governance transformations, and streamlining executive decision making

In our pre-pandemic research, we discussed three characteristics that lead to better, faster decision making: high-quality debate, well-understood processes and a culture of empowerment. Our research also identified three facilitating actions: making decisions at the right level, aligning decisions with corporate strategy and committing to execution. Then, during the pandemic, we saw organizations making decisions faster than ever.

As the world progresses into the next normal, companies must reconsider the basic tenets of the organization to avoid complex and costly decision making. As companies look to organize for the future, we have observed an additional four actions that complement our earlier research and can help sustain rapid decision making.

Focus on the game-changing decisions

Prioritize decisions and debate the ones that matter most by asking what decisions can best help your organization create value and serve its purpose. Senior executives can be judicious with their decision-making time by segmenting decisions into four categories: debate and decide, approve, provide guardrails, and delegate; the latter two are critical to facilitating rapid decision making across the organization. Executives should also be heavily involved in the small number of “game changers”—decisions that are most critical to deliver on the organization’s strategy—that make up debate.

Convene necessary meetings only, declare war on lengthy reports

Most regularly scheduled meetings keep employees busy but not productive, contributing to poor employee morale. People typically spend too long writing lengthy reports for meetings, creating data overload and making it difficult to make decisions.

Organizations should rethink current meeting schedules, length and preparation practices. Meetings that can be replaced with written updates should be eliminated. For those meetings that remain, attendees should be given short, focused, well-prepared pre-reads can aid decision making. Amazon, for instance, encourages streamlined reporting and facilitates productive decision making with a standard six-page memo that tees up the critical facts.

Companies are also moving faster by speeding up the cadence of some decisions. For example, many organizations allocate resources quarterly instead of annually, and some do so even more frequently. Although this means more meetings (though not necessarily more total meeting time), companies can move more quickly because there is less guesswork.

Clarify the roles of decision makers and other voices

The essence of decision making requires a clear understanding of who has a vote (decides) versus who has a voice (provides input). Lack of role clarity is a frequent barrier to rapid decision making. Therefore, organizations should designate the accountable decision makers and those who are involved, consulted and informed.

Push decision-making authority to the ‘edge’—and tolerate mistakes

Agile organizations navigated the initial impact of the pandemic better than most. One reason is that they delegate decision making to frontline employees and to other critical roles where value and risk are concentrated. Yet, delegating does not mean leaving people on their own; rather, it is about coaching (not micromanaging) decision makers to make successful decisions, providing guardrails and empowering them to make final decisions. Making decisions faster inevitably means mistakes will happen. However, organizations should give employees room to make those mistakes—as long as they don’t threaten the business. We’ve seen organizations take steps to build risk mitigation into their decision processes. This lets them continue to move with speed: moving forward with implementation and quick test-and-learn cycles that allow for nimble adjustments and open doors to opportunities.

As the pandemic continues, organizations should embrace the mindset that progress—and learning as you go—is better than perfection. The risk of standing still is greater than the risk of making bold moves.

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This blog post is part of a series on Organizing for the Future, which explores a set of new principles such as anti-fragility and experimentation that are becoming increasingly critical for today’s organizations as they build more creative, adaptable and human systems.

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