Overcoming Decision Making Paralysis

Managers often avoid the responsibility of making decisions or let their personal biases influence the decisions to the detriment of the company. This makes it difficult for leaders committed to driving change to move the agenda forward. Here are some thoughts on how they can overcome the “no decision/poor decision” dilemma.

Agree on a broad basis or process on how the decision will be made. The process could be as simple as a meeting, followed by a vote where majority wins or complicated enough to require considerable data analysis and iterations of decisions.

Define the role of each stakeholder in the decision making process. Not all stakeholders need to be engaged in every decision. Define whether the stakeholder is an approver, needs to be consulted, needs to be informed or advisor. This will help get buy-in from large groups without bogging down decision making. Off course, resist the temptation to only engage the “approvers” and forget about the rest — they will not take kindly to it — and will sabotage your decision by second guessing along the way.

Agree on the criteria that will be used in making the decision. Make sure it’s clear what decision needs to be made. Very often, we are not aligned on the problem we are solving. Define the problem and the criteria or conditions that need to be in place for a certain decision. Use decision trees to help stakeholders understand the options and implications.

Understand the decision makers mental models and biases. All decision makers have inherent biases that need to be factored in the decision making process. Some mental models you might encounter include: remaining committed to a past decision, “we have spend so much already, we need to continue”operating from experience, “I have seen it done this way, this is how it should be done”; having an implicit favorite, “my mind is made up, I can always find a loophole in the data”; having a strong perception of the analyst(s), “I don’t like him, his analysis is going to be poor”; working from hindsight, “I knew it all along, I am sure the data will support it”.

Use an objective facilitator. For complex decisions, consider using an objective internal or external facilitator who has no vested interest in the outcome.

I’m passionate about exploring the entanglement of social and digital, and its implications for our collective future.