For most of my career I thought of decisions as a thing, an event, a point in time. Perhaps decisions were positioned throughout the stage gate process. Or, a decision was a “go/no go” final decision. That perspective is naive and incomplete. Decisions are not a point in time event; they are a living, systemic process. Given this, decisions can and should be designed. Yes! Even decisions.
The design of decisions is less focused on the specific decision outcome and more focused on a process that allows a great decision to be made and for it to stick. Notice I did not say “the right decision to be made”. There are many right or wrong decisions as they depend on what is needed or what you are strategically attempting to do. A more evolved approach to decisions is to focus on creating the conditions to make a great one that the organization will embrace. To do that you need to consider two things:
1)What type of decision are you facing?
2)Who needs to be enrolled in this decision for it to take hold?
Is this a simple routine decision or one that is more complex and within an ambiguous context? Is the decision impacting a wide portion of the organization or involving significant capital expenditures? The simpler the decision and more localized the impact, the simpler the decision design. We all understand simple decisions and rarely need help in executing this type as many decisions we individually make each day live here. We can also find plenty of situations where consensus is needed rather than any one individual decision made, such as forming a team’s operating principles.
We run into problems, however, when we carry these types of simple decision design forward to a complex, ambiguous decision. In this latter situation, which is increasingly relevant today, we need a new approach to decision design.
Today’s complex, ambiguous decisions need a systemic approach to determining them. First you need to make sure you understand the great options available to you by framing the decision choices. Given the complexity, it is unlikely you can read a memo with the facts outlined and make the decision alone. No, with complexity comes the requirement to increase involvement. You need to seek out divergent points of view and invite in candor and debate. You need a discovery mindset. With this you can truly understand what the implications of various courses of action might be. And, by inviting people to participate with their candid insight and knowledge, you are framing the decision while sowing important seeds, the seed of “being heard” (or empathy) which is the precursor to the support you need to bloom once you take a decision.
Next you need to imagine how different decisions might manifest in practice. Low resolutions prototyping can be very helpful here. You can “try on” how they might work and get people to help you see what it might mean. This co-creation phase drives clarity of the implications but also drives commitment to the eventual decision.
Finally, you do have to make a decision. While I recommend a collaborative process for framing the decision, complex, ambiguous decisions need a decision maker, who is well informed by the process and well positioned to decide. Once decided, your decision may not match what the collaborators personally wanted to see happen, but given they were participants of the process and saw the considerations given, they are able to support the decision and to work diligently to “make it a great decision”. Decision design has not ended here, as decision design involves two additional components; first, making the decision a great one and second, knowing when to revisit or reopen a decision. I will explore these important aspects of decision design in my next blog.
Scan the emphasized words, they represent some key concepts of design thinking. Imagine! Design Thinking can even be applied to your decision process. Is it present in your decision design today? How could it be?