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Walkthrough Wednesdays

Decision Making: Collaborate to Engage


This is the second of a four-part series. Part I introduced decision-driven collaboration.

Upcoming posts will explore evaluation and execution.

Better decisions don’t necessarily come from the existence of better information. The information is usually somewhere in the organization, but there's no benefit to the decision-making process unless people actually use it. Executives often don’t take full advantage of all the specialized knowledge that employees can contribute. Maybe they don’t know the information is there. Maybe they know it must be somewhere, but don’t know how to get it. Or, well, maybe they’re just not looking for it in the first place.

Improving the decision-making process comes as a result of evolving ideas around collaboration and by connecting people and empowering them to work together. Cisco IBSG calls this “Decision-Driven Collaboration” and outlines three core elements that build upon one another in the decision process:

  • Collaborate to Engage: Identify key contributors, solicit input, share ideas.
  • Collaborate to Evaluate: Shape the matter to be decided, consider viable alternatives.
  • Collaborate to Execute: Make a clear decision, align relevant parties, put it into practice.

Although the executives in an IBSG survey rated their own decision-making ability highly, the managers and individual contributors were (surprise!) not nearly as confident in the decisions handed to them to execute. Making critical strategic decisions without engaging the right people and information in your organization should be a candidate for a new definition of risk in the next edition of the dictionary, followed closely by leaping out of an airplane minus a parachute.

Just ask Borders. Borders missed the online retailing boat in a big way. How big? It initially handed its online book sales to in 2001, while continuing to expand its physical presence with large retail stores. Having ignored the changing habits of its customers, by 2006 Borders was failing to show a profit. Even so, it was not until 2008 that Borders attempted to return to e-commerce – by which time Amazon had long since established itself as the incumbent. Type in today and you get a nice welcome letter upon your redirection to the site of former nemesis Barnes and Noble.

Borders provides a no-longer-so-shining example of the need for the engagement element of decision making. Imagine the different result had Borders executives engaged people with different expertise in the decision-making process.

Collaborate to Engage

OK, so if you find all the right people and get them to tell you the right stuff, everything will be simple. Rainbows will appear and squirrels will dance to celebrate your perfect decisions. It’s not quite so simple, but engaging the right people and information is the critical first step.

In this stage, you not only gather perspectives and information, and but you identify the people who will be important in the evaluation and execution of the decision. This requires that you have defined the purpose of the decision so you can focus the effort on the actual goal. Otherwise it’s like sending someone to the store only to have them return with chicken wings when you were planning to make cookies. It’s not just about gathering and sharing information, but gathering the right information and evaluating it in the right context.

Each phase in decision-driven collaboration includes three enablers: people, process, and technology. In the engagement phase, these play out as follows:

Engage through People: Create an inclusive business environment that encourages all employees – not just the ones with office doors – to share information and expertise. To be effective, people need to feel welcome to participate and add value to a decision-making process. It’s not a free-for-all brainstorming melee, but an environment designed to take advantage of unique individual perspectives. It takes strong, inclusive leadership to foster a culture where those who can contribute meaningfully both have the ability and inclination to take part.

Engage through Process: Legacy processes and organizational culture may prevent fostering an inclusive business environment. Employees are more inclined to communicate with colleagues within their own business unit, job function, and geography – 1,000 times more likely, in fact -- according to Harvard University research. But as geography becomes less relevant with collaboration technology, organizations can focus on breaking down isolation between groups and connecting more people to create an environment in which talented people don’t feel restricted by conventional limits of place, time, or job role. Creating specialized short-term project teams move in this direction, as does forming longer-lasting virtual communities around topics of employee interest and expertise.

Engage through Technology: In engagement, technology provides a platform for interaction, giving people an arena where they can contribute, communicate, exchange ideas, and access knowledge. The technology for these interactions can include video conferencing and virtual meetings; enterprise social networking; online communities; expertise tagging; knowledge management; presence; and unified communications, including voice, messaging, IM, email, and so on. And in today’s mobile reality, the platform must be accessible anytime, anywhere, on any device.

The potential to improve collaboration, even at this first stage, is still significant. To improve decision making and maximize value, organizations need to amplify their collaboration efforts to create the engagement necessarily to move effectively into evaluation and execution.

~ Kim

For the full survey report, download

Decision-Driven Collaboration: Insights from Cisco IBSG Horizons Collaboration Research.

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