Anatomy of a Good Decision

An executive in a knowledge organization is making decisions every day. The nature and scope of these decisions vary from small approvals to making strategic long-term choices. But what is always there in an executive’s life is plenty of decision-making. The thing worse than making wrong decision is making no decisions. An executive with a stalled decision-making capability – potentially always in an analysis-paralysis mode – is headed nowhere.

9758917325_93c0df18baDecision are also very obvious and public. You see world leaders announcing their picks for key appointments or a major foreign policy decision very publicly. Business leaders make sure their organization’s key strategic decisions of going into a new market or making an acquisition are known to everyone.

This sometime can make one see decisions as events rather than a process.  Making a decision is the end of a process, not just execution of an event. There is a lot of homework and evaluation done behind every major decision. Announcing or communicating those decisions to stakeholder is the event that potentially completes the process.

So what does that process entail – or should entail?

Evaluating at the highest conceptual level While what may come to an executive’s desk for a decision may be the result of a specific situation – news of a competitor’s buy-out, a bad review of a product, a request for a meeting, an unexpected resignation – it needs to be evaluated at the highest conceptual level. What does this event relate into? Which compartment of the organization does it belong to? An executive, while thoroughly triages the event or situation, connects it to a ‘bigger picture’ and makes a decision based on how he believes and has planned to do in the bigger scheme of things. The response is part of a bigger policy rather than an ad-hoc and arbitrary response to a situation. For example, how does the company generally handle bad news? what is the company’s policy to respond to bad press? how does the resignation of an employee fit into company’s year long employment plans?

This ability to raise from the chaos and smoke of the battlefield to a strategic location with a wider view is critical to effective decisions. There is no such thing as an independent and isolated decision. Every decision fits into a bigger whole.

Evaluating the alternatives Every good decision is made after evaluating the alternatives. Explicitly crafting and thinking them out is critical to a balanced decision. An executive mind’s runs through parallel decision paths before converging on one. It is never a linear process. For example: how would the top three candidates do in a particular role? how does a decision to invest in a particular market compares to alternate decisions to invest in another market or to not investing at all.

The challenge is that these alternatives are mostly not obvious. They have to crafted out, imagined, brought to life and made part of the decision-making process.

Defining actions to implement Drucker said that decision are merely statement of intentions unless they are associated with actions to implement them. At least an action to get started. That is what happens everyday. Decisions are made, declared and hyped – but they never get implemented. Immediately defining and associating a set of actions along with the decision will entail effective implementation. For example a decision to expand a team is associated with release of budget and communication to HR; or a decision to meet an executive from another business unit is immediately followed by sending the request to schedule to his staff.

Communicating the decision Every decision has stakeholders – people who are or can be affected or those who need to be informed. One of the most logical immediate ‘action items’ associated with a decision is to communicate the decision to the stakeholders. For example, updating HR about a decision to hire or informing the company’s shareholders about a strategic business direction. Communication is part of the task.

Follow up Most decisions require a long-term implementation or monitoring. Many decisions get lost in organizational chaos if not properly followed up or checked on for progress and input. All systems and processes move towards chaos – unless they are checked upon, followed through and refined and energized as required.

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Take a Thinking Day

“Airplane Days – A couple of years ago I noticed that I got some of my best work done on long intercontinental flights. No Internet access, no distractions, just churning through high priority to-do items. I would finish the flights not only at Inbox 0 but also having completed some “creative” tasks that had long lingered on my list due to lack of contiguous time to complete them: drafting new presentations/documents or deep quantitative analysis of some data/spreadsheet, for example.

When I made the joke that I should start flying internationally more often for productivity reasons, the light bulb went off. Now, at the beginning of each week, I carefully look at my schedule and declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time. I block it out on my shared calendar and treat it as if I were in the air: working out of the office, disabling my phone, and shutting off network connections on my laptop. The rest of the days are for meetings, etc. but this blocked out time each week is my most productive by far.”  – Quora

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Sometime back, I wrote about the Long Walks. The key idea was that you need to have contiguous, uninterrupted blocks of time where you focus on a single project or task to be most productive. Having ‘long enough’ time for an activity helps you coalesce all the different data pieces hanging around your head and outside and bring out aspects and issues that simply is not possible if you are in a short-burst mode. That is why I called it the Long Walk model.

This is exactly what is being quoted above as an excellent tool to achieve the same goal.

John Donahoe, CEO eBay, takes what he calls a ‘Thinking Day’ every six months to ‘beat the chaos’. John wrote:

“I have found that one of the simplest tools for learning and enhancing my performance is to regularly reflect on how to spend my time. Every six months I go through a process where I step back, contemplate what I have learned over the previous six months, and then adjust my focus to ensure I am spending my time and energy in ways where I can create the greatest impact.”

It is essentially a process of zooming out from the current reality, rising above the daily fires and chaos and reflect on what is happening. It is like a military commander climbing the most strategic height of a battlefield to see what is happening. The visibility, perspective and insight that he will get from that vantage point is invaluable. We all need to such visibility and insights.

“I just finished one of my thinking days last month. I filled a white board with my assessment of the external market and how we were doing against our priorities for the first six months of this year. As frequently happens, once I had written everything out in one place, I found it useful to step back and look at things from a holistic perspective. I emerged with new insights and with greater clarity about what’s most important. To remind myself of these insights, I wrote them out, as I always do, into my personal priorities file and now carry this file with me everywhere I go.”

This is one of the best productivity and effectiveness tools. It helps dodge off the daily fires we have to fight. It makes you think deep and long enough to get the best use of your time. As Drucker said that an executive has just about 25% of his time in his control.

Taking a regular thinking day out is the best use of that time!

Feedback – the Candy Crush Way!

If you have lately been unproductive, there is a good chance that you are addicted to Candy Crush.

Well if it’s any consolation, you are joined by millions of others around the world. If you need more consolation, the addiction was recently a multi-page article in TIME magazine.

For those of you who are living in caves, Candy Crush Saga is an online game available on mobile and web platforms. It has various ‘levels’, each level cleared by busting three or more same colored candies present adjacent to each other on a grid. Your mission is to complete the level by busting candies to meet a particular target in a finite number of moves.

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Seems simple – so why the addiction?

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