True Choice: Six Steps for Optimal Decision Making
As explained in my previous piece, The Yes/No Decision-Making Model: Persistent But Weak, it’s the norm in many organizations to make decisions based on a traditional model of weighing a yes against a no.
That may sound like a good practice because what would you do otherwise?
There is a better way, but first, let’s look at the traditional model.
Here’s the Yes/No Decision-Making process in a nutshell:
When an interesting idea is presented by a trusted member of an organization or by a respected outsider, (an associate, consultant, or other) there’s a tendency for the group to simply weigh the pros and cons and respond with yes or no.
The consideration discussion may be brief or in-depth, but the process solely considers the adoption or rejection of the idea. It’s a dualistic model and therefore is limited.
How Do Boards Do with Decision-Making?
In a corporate setting, decisions are made at all levels but decisions made by a corporate or nonprofit board are some of the biggest and most important. Boards are made up of top-notch executives who must be good decision-makers, right? Not necessarily.
It’s no surprise that business professor Scott Galloway reports that diverse boards outperform the corporate boards that are made up of all white men.
Of course, they do.
Too often divergent thinking is discouraged in organizations of all kinds from nonprofits to large corporations. Leaders who lack confidence and who impose a power-over model will not welcome a variety of opinions. But healthy organizations value a wide range of perspectives and continually seek them. Those diverse points of view, when respected and encouraged offer the best opportunity for great decision making.
When diversity is added, theoretically at least, we are adding new viewpoints and missing perspectives — perspectives that an all-white, all-male board was likely unaware of previously. I say “theoretically” because if organizations simply add a few token women and/or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) but don’t change the environment to facilitate or encourage full participation from those folks, things will stay stale and limited.
If new voices are spoken but not listened to the organization will stay stuck and miss the opportunity for superior process and decision-making.
It’s good business to transform your board from an exclusively white male cadre into a board that is vibrant and dynamic with the diversity of not only gender identity and color but also divergent thinkers — those who excel in seeing from an alternative perspective. Creative thinkers who don’t accept anything at face value but who always question the status quo. Those who think of what others may have forgotten to consider.
Throw a few “troublemakers” into the mix. They will liven up the discussions and your organization will make better decisions. They could even save lives. In the thought-provoking book “In Defense of Troublemakers,” the author begins with an alarming story of a group facing a life-threatening crisis and it appears that the fear or hesitancy to break away from the group mindset and point out a missed aspect cost the lives of many. Yet if one person had noticed and spoken up, they all could have been saved.
Every leader should read this book. Then they should give copies to all their employees as required reading.
In Defense of Troublemakers
"Good decision-making, at its heart, is divergent thinking. When we think divergently, we think in multiple directions…
A More Effective Decision-Making Model
Back to the nitty-gritty of the decision-making process. A more expansive, best-practice approach, is what I’ve coined as the True Choice Decision-Making Process.
Generating ideas and potential solutions is a creative process that should be encouraged in any organization. The True Choice Decision-Making Process outlined below facilitates a conscious and comprehensive assessment of all ideas presented and moves beyond the “thinking out loud” stage.
Applying this procedure guides and informs “True Choice” that transcends the narrow “Yes/No” process. Funneling ideas through these six steps will help manage and improve an organization’s decisions by creating an efficient flow of direction and continuity.
Step One: IDENTIFY THE NEED
- Whenever a new idea comes to someone, instead of going down the usual path toward a yes or a no (no matter how brilliant the idea sounds), put on the brakes and ask:
- What need will be met by the adoption of this idea? What problem will it solve?
- Any new idea that is being considered will likely have a need attached to it. If it doesn’t then it may not be a great idea or you may want to look deeper.
- The need or problem that will be solved may be deep and complex — like addressing the increasing tardiness issue in all departments, or closing the gender gap in executive positions.
- Or the need or problem that will be solved may be quite simple — like a small improvement in the quality of life in the organization or decreasing the cost of commuting for entry-level employees.
- Or the need may simply be for a fresh approach to something or to make one committee more inclusive. This isn’t intended to be a rigid process. These guidelines are presented to help with complex and difficult decisions but should not keep you from exploring ideas that seem less serious — it’s up to you what the “need” is. Maybe someone working in the mailroom thinks there’s a need for a brighter reception area. Others may roll their eyes but don’t write it off because you can’t identify a “serious enough” need.
- The underlying need or problem that needs to be met or solved is an important element of any new idea, especially if it’s a big idea.
- Therefore, Step One is to identify the need.
- Once you identify the need, put it into a succinct written statement that explains it and explains how the new idea is the answer.
Step Two: BRAINSTORM
- Now that you have identified the need, set that new idea on the sideline temporarily, while you shift your attention to exploring other ways to solve that problem or meet that need.
- What other options are there? What other ideas can you come up with that could also satisfy that identified need?
- Do a brainstorm — hold an official brainstorming session. Invite anyone who wishes to join in — not only those in management. It’s strongly recommended to invite members or employees or volunteers from all levels of the organization and especially those who are new and may have a fresh perspective.
- Welcome all ideas. Don’t censor. Write them all down. Encourage everyone to share. Ask specifically.
- Create a list of as many options or avenues as the group can think of. Do not judge them (yet).
Step Three: ASSESSMENT / CONTINUITY
- Did the brainstorm give birth to an even better idea than the original?An idea that will better solve the problem or meet the need? Evaluate each option from the brainstorm alongside the original “great idea.”
- Once the list is whittled down or you have an obvious top choice, run the idea through the questions below so that you don’t miss anything important that’s part of the bigger picture and to maintain continuity within the organization.
- Will adopting this idea contradict any previous decisions?
- Will adopting this idea fit within the current direction of the specific project and overall mission of the organization?
- If the answer to the question above is no, don’t dismiss the idea too quickly. If it involves a change in direction, consider it within that context. A separate meeting may be necessary for its consideration.
- Are there any other continuity issues to consider while assessing this idea?
Step Four: PRE-DECISION
- With the information gathered in Steps 1 through 3, is there enough information and clarity to continue the consideration of this idea?
- Are there any dissenting opinions that need to be more seriously considered?
- Is everyone “going along” with the majority opinion? If so is that authentic? Or is everyone simply being nice? Has anyone “shaken the table?” (to quote Ayanna Pressley)
- Have you sought out the perspective of those who are new?
- Have you actively solicited divergent ideas? (asked your staff and colleagues to play “devil’s advocate” or give the assignment to a small team of creative thinkers to do their best to find holes in it, and then send their report back to the decision-makers)
Step Five: TENTATIVE ADOPTION
- If the previous four steps have been followed and the decision-makers feel the idea is indeed the best solution to the identified need or problem, the decision can be adopted tentatively. (if it’s something that can be “tentative”)
Step Six: DISCERNMENT PROCESS/ FINAL DECISION
- In this final stage of deciding to adopt either the original idea, a tweaked version or a new idea that came out of the brainstorm, the decision-makers can participate in whatever research or discussions they feel necessary to make the final informed decision.
- Simplifying aspects or adding an addendum and other fine-tuning can produce a final optimal decision. The True Choice decision.
While this process will help bring greater awareness and clarity, the group may come to the conclusion that the idea is not what it seemed originally - that there is no unaddressed need related to it, or that even though a need was identified, addressing it at this time is either not necessary or not a good use of resources. When a group comes to that awareness, the original idea is abandoned or put on the back burner, to keep it from becoming a distraction or diversion from the forward movement of the project or organization.
If a new idea is adopted, it’s recommended to perform an evaluation after the idea has been in place for a period of time. Depending on the nature of the decision, after the evaluation, you may have the option to reverse or revise the decision. In cases where a decision is not one that can be changed, evaluation is still valuable as there may be options for making improvements, or gaining an understanding of why the decision was a mistake and how to avoid making a similar one in the future.
Some decision-making can feel like a tedious chore where you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place or excruciating diligence is required.
But when using the True Choice Model, you might find that decision-making becomes an exciting creative process that draws out the best ideas from your team and can even result in a stronger alliance among its members. When that happens the process becomes more interesting and engaging, resulting in happier staff and better decisions.
Christine Green coaches business owners and organizational leaders who want to improve their decision-making process. She consults with employers, helping them make better hiring decisions. This is an updated version of the original post published September 29, 2009.