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How to transform your decision-making process

22 Apr 2021 By Joshua Becker

Making business choices can be inefficient and time consuming, explains Joshua Becker – but there are ways to streamline them

Decision making is at the heart of all businesses, and never has the focus been so sharp on the importance of making the right decisions than during this time of crisis. The Covid pandemic has meant businesses have been forced to make decisions in unchartered territory. Now more than ever, HR leaders need to ensure that the processes they have in place for making decisions on both a large and small scale are as efficient as possible and include the opinions of everyone involved. So how do you do that? 

Understanding the different processes 

Typically, many businesses take the approach of a meeting or brainstorm for idea generation, and from those meetings an evaluation has to be made on which idea is best. While this is a good and standard process, there are things to watch out for to make sure you make the most of these sessions. Time is precious for everyone, and no one wants to spend hours in a meeting that could have taken 30 minutes. 

Some companies choose to use a voting method. For example, if you are deciding whether to invest in a piece of software or to build internally, there are two ways the decision could be made. The most common way is to vote – do we invest, or do we build ourselves? 

An alternative ‘wisdom of the crowds’ approach, which is growing in popularity among businesses is to ask each person their actual estimate – not just which to use, but how much each costs – and use the average belief as the ‘crowd estimate’. Surprisingly, this choice can make a big difference.

But one of the most challenging things about decision-making process design is that all businesses and decisions are different, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, as part of my research in this area, I have come to understand that there are some general processes that are typically used by most organisations, and there are ways in which I believe those processes can be updated to help leaders get the most out of their teams. 

I’ve outlined my top five steps HR and business managers to take when exploring how to make your decision-making process better. 

  • Always have a structure – it may seem an obvious point, but lack of structure can be a common mistake when decision making meetings are booked. Beyond the agenda, set up a structure that will harness the intelligence of all of the voices in the room and while making the most efficient use of everyone’s time. By having a structure, you can help to avoid focusing on one area of ideas too much and ensure you are addressing all ideas and options. 

  • Create and respect diversity of ideas – everybody has a unique way of solving a problem and so you lose valuable organisational capital when you fail to preserve this diversity of thinking. As a bonus, such inclusion can help HR managers to ensure that employees feel involved and heard when it comes to business decisions. 

  • Avoid the risk of ‘satisficing’ – satisficing is a decision-making practice where people accept the first satisfactory or adequate result rather than searching exhaustively for the optimal solution. This means you should keep looking even after you’ve found something that works. This can often feel unnatural, but to optimise the process it is useful to continue to look for other solutions to ensure that yours is ultimately the best. 

  • Embrace digital technology – to help combat chaotic brainstorming meetings, embrace brainwriting, where your team sits around the table and writes ideas on paper to pass around, rather than shouting them out loud. This way you get independent thinking and can be easily adapted with digital tech. Decision making may seem daunting with teams working remotely around the world, but by utilising platforms like Zoom with its breakout rooms so you can foster a culture of independent thinking and include diverse ideas. 

  • Don’t be afraid of bringing in an expert – particularly when it comes to the very big decisions. If your team’s brainstorm and collaboration skills are not resulting in effective decisions, then there are experts in this field who can come in to mediate and optimise the process. You wouldn’t do surgery on yourself, so when it’s something that important for your business, bring in an expert. All too often we see businesses waiting until something breaks to bring in facilitators or arbitrators as conflict resolution experts. But these same experts, if you bring them in early, can help you to stay ahead of the game by making robust decisions in the first place.

Every business is different, and it is the role of HR managers and leaders to come together to evaluate where your decision-making process could be made better. Whether it is a small step or external help, there are lots of options to help you make the most out of your team and ultimately make the best decision for the organisation. 

Joshua Becker is an assistant professor at UCL School of Management

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