The final post will explore the execution element.
Good strategic decision-making rarely involves the flipping of coins or rolling of dice, although such techniques can come in handy when the outcome defines nothing more than your dinner menu. Business decisions of larger impact require a process that incorporates deeper consideration and more detailed information. Cisco IBSG calls this “Decision-Driven Collaboration,” and emphasizes the need to improve decision-making by improving collaboration, connecting people and empowering them to work together more effectively. This incorporates three core elements that build upon one another:
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.
Once you’ve engaged the people with experience and skills needed to provide information, ideas, and counsel in making a decision, the next step involves empowering them participate in the evaluation phase. It’s not an opportunity to create an opinion-flinging free-for-all, but to have people analyze the detail, offer perspectives, present alternatives, and weigh in on the options tied to a defined decision point.
Ask employees to identify the biggest barrier to collaboration in decision making and they’ll tell you that it’s that most decisions involve closed processes of small group of executives. Although 65% of executives in a Cisco IBSG Horizon survey say their companies encourage employees to present dissenting opinions, only 10% of individual contributors in the same survey felt fully empowered to do so. One way to close this gap is to provide both executives and individual contributors with more access to analytics and collaboration technologies, allowing them to identify and provide more meaningful, quantifiable information in their areas of expertise.
Unfortunately, the survey also identified a gap between the importance of such tools and their actual availability within respondents’ organizations. While people overwhelmingly (87%) felt that real-time operations data is useful, only 35% considered it widely available and highly used by decision makers. At the same time, 70% acknowledge that the amount of data has increased in the past two years – a trend unlikely to diminish anytime soon, if ever.
Collaborate to Evaluate
Better analysis tools give people the ability to identify and share patterns, trends, anomalies — all critical in the evaluation phase of decision making. Each phase in decision-driven collaboration includes three enablers: people, process, and technology. In the evaluation phase, these manifest as follows:
Evaluate through People: Ensuring that your organizational culture is truly supportive of collaborative interaction in decisions involves more than declaring it to be true. As IBSG’s survey results show, executive perception is often quite removed from employee perception. Wherever the reality exists, perception drives the behavior. Implementing the tools and establishing the relationships that bring decision making closer those in the relevant area of business -– at all levels within the organization -– results in more comprehensive information, relevant perspective, and accordingly, better decisions.
Evaluate through Process: Instead of viewing criticism, challenging feedback, and suggested alternatives as a risk to their authority, leaders will benefit from an environment in which opposing evidence and honest evaluation are part of the process. More often than not, leadership tiers consist of like-minded colleagues. While this may create a harmonious environment for quarterly leadership meetings, it’s not so conducive to weighing strategic options. The answer is to institute a decision-making process that requires what Cisco IBSG calls “true alternatives.” This process requires that at least two scenarios have been carefully considered, are attainable, and have quantified business cases. This avoids decisions based on momentum or political reasons, instead focusing on fact-based, empirical data as recurring input. At the same time, leaders must look beyond the data with the help of those in the organization who have relevant perspective.
Evaluate through Technology: Organizations need to develop data-capture tools that provide a “listening infrastructure,” in which decision makers can access information from customers, employees, partners, social media outlets, third-party research, and internal company sources. The value comes not in the capture or volume of information, but through the evaluation. The difference is in the optimal use of “listening” tools from which individual contributors and executives alike can glean meaningful data and insights from many information streams. It then applies a holistic framework of people, process, and technology to the mission of making better decisions, rather than solving data-driven challenges as if they were discrete IT problems.
More than anything, focusing on objective information in the evaluation phase can enable a final, fact-based verdict instead of getting mired in the dreaded hold of analysis paralysis. And successful evaluation leads into the third element: execution.
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