8 Processes For Organizing Your Team’s Decisions
The success of a company, like the success of an individual, can be reduced to quality of its decisions. Yet most companies neglect decision-making as a dimension of operational improvement. Problems are not made explicit. Decisions are not written down. Reasons are not recorded.
The best decision a company can make is to improve the way it makes decisions. But companies don’t invest in their decision-making processes because they take time to build and time to run. There is an upfront cost and a maintenance cost.
But with Invisible Technologies powering your business operations, you don’t need to worry about these costs — we do all the work for you, so you can focus on decision-making itself.
Decisions solve for problems. So the first decision-making process to build is a process for surfacing, collecting, categorizing and ranking problems.
Your Synthetic Intelligence can send a message to you and every member of your team, asking them to send in any problems they see in the business. Your S.I. can remind them of this every week, month or quarter. This alone adds value by building a culture that encourages everyone to surface problems.
When you send in a problem, your S.I. can save it in the designated Slack Channel and Google Drive Folder for this data type. So you don’t need to worry about where it goes — just message it in!
After collecting a decent set of problems, your S.I. will suggest some basic categories, and ask you if you want to edit them. Once categories are defined, all future problems will be sorted according to these categories. Categories and their sorting definitions can be changed at any time; and we expect them to evolve.
Once problems have been categorized, they can be ranked by urgency, importance and any other factors you want to sort by. Your S.I. can ask your team to assign values, and then average their votes. Or, your S.I. can just ask the primary decision-maker.
With your problems surfaced, collected, categorized and ranked; you can begin systematically logging decisions.
Every decision gets its own file, its own title and number, its own metadata. So in the future, you can look up decisions based on any criteria. For example, “Show me hiring decisions for the engineering team from Q1 of 2015.”
But the decisions themselves are quite simple, really. They are usually no longer than one sentence. “Hire Thomas Edison.” “Invest in lightbulb research.” These are examples of decisions.
Decisions, once made, need to be implemented. Sarah needs to write a report. Roger needs to design a logo. Kim needs to evaluate vendors. Etcetera.
These are just Tasks. Your S.I. can make sure these Implementation Tasks are added to your Tasks system, delegated correctly and managed to completion. Once all of the Implementation Tasks are complete, your S.I. can update the Decision file metadata to show Status: Complete.
Ideally, every decision would have its reasons written down. But reasoning, especially in writing, takes time. So decisions stand on economic ground.
You won’t have time to write down reasons for most decisions, but for your most important decisions, it is usually worth the time to articulate your analysis. You can use a framework like cost-benefit analysis, or you can engage in free thinking. If you enjoy using formal decision-making frameworks and heuristics, your S.I. can use these to guide you through any decision.
If your Decision is being discussed in a Meeting, the Discussion Notes file will be paired with the Decision file — as reasoning is often embedded in the unstructured discussion.
Your S.I. will encourage you to articulate your reasons as often as possible.
One you have a decent set of decisions, your S.I. will encourage you to begin abstracting them into policies.
Policies are rules. They are formulated like this: “In situation X, do Y.” For example, “If a business expense is smaller than $500, you do not need manager approval.”
Your S.I. will collect, categorize and distribute policies so that everybody knows where to find them. Your S.I. will also use reminders to encourage you to keep them up to date, and to encourage your team to re-read them.
Protocols are like policies, except they are for communication. Communications protocols help make sure everyone in the company is speaking the same language.
Communication rules are so important and unique that we handle them differently than other policies. When communications break down, operations break down.
Suppose you have an informal understanding on your team: “Do not send an internal Email when a Slack Message would have sufficed.” Then you hire a new person, who isn’t aware of this unspoken rule, and is used to different communications protocols. That person will begin to violate the rule without knowing it.
Policing protocols is unpleasant. It is so unpleasant that most companies just don’t do it. As a result, they don’t have any Protocols, and their communications descend into emojis. Chaos is bad for business.
Your S.I. can police your company’s communications channels, and be the keeper of the rules. Suppose you have a Protocol for Slack that bans emojis, except for functional business signals, in all channels except for your #random channel. Your S.I. will monitor emoji usage and send gentle reminders to members of your team when they break protocol.
Principles are not rigid rules, but they are guidelines for making decisions. When everyone in your company understands the same set of principles, decision-making will be aligned.
Principles say “Z is true. In situation X, think about how Z applies.” For example, a principle may be: “Paradox. The truth lies in paradox. Contradictions are illusions that reveal opposite sides of the same truth.”
Suppose your team understands this principle. If they find themselves in a heated disagreement while debating a decision, they may frame the contradiction between the two opposing positions as an illusion. They may investigate how the two positions may not, in fact, be mutually exclusive, but just different aspects of the same truth.
Principles must come from within. But your S.I. can help collect, organize and remind you of them in decision-making settings. For example, after every Decision, your S.I. may ask you “Which principle did you use to help you make this Decision?” By collecting this data over time, your Principles become powerful in a tangible, quantitative way — they are no longer esoteric ideals, they are tools you use to make decisions.
Values are like Principles, but they are subjective. Principles claim to be impartial truths. But Values are assertions of desire, will and value.
Underlying all Decisions is the formula: V > C + O; Expected value must be greater than expected cost plus opportunity cost. When we make Decisions, then, we are implying our values, even when we aren’t aware of them.
Net Profit, for example, is a nearly universal value for companies. Many decisions are made to increase Net Profit. But is Net Profit the only value that companies have? No. There are competing values which sometimes supersede Net Profit in Decision-making. For example, Market Share. Or, Product Quality.
Product Quality is interesting because it is not quantitative, it is qualitative. And it is not financial. But it is something that can be understood as a value, and made to supersede quantiative and financial values.
To value Free Speech, for example, is a courageous choice for a company to make. It can be argued that actively encouraging a diversity of views is inefficient and even dangerous. Inefficient because it proliferates communication, and communication takes time to process. Dangerous because unfiltered opinions may provoke debates which result in political battles which may not only distract the team from its focus, but may even break down morale. But by a different logic, Free Speech may be the most important ingredient in building a sustainable, long-term culture.
Again, your values have to come from within. But your S.I. can help collect, organize and remind everyone in your organization to update and reference the company’s Values, so that decentralized decision-making is aligned.
Problems, Decisions, Reasons and Implentation are the basic set of processes that your team needs to start making formal decisions.
But Policies, Protocols, Principles and Values are advanced, meta-decisions. They are decisions about how to make future decisions. If you want to improve decision-making quality and speed in the long run, invest in these.
As with all of our Processes, these are customizeable to your requirements; and we can even build new ones, just for you!