Making Decisions Stick
“Decisions are easy,” the newly appointed project leader confided, “it’s making them stick that’s the problem!”
He was struggling with a common problem: How do you get team members to live up to their commitments? Too often, many team players will go along with a decision only to renege when it comes time to implement it.
The result is lost time, confusion and bruised morale.
Poor decision making quality is the root cause of slow project implementation. I once asked a Japanese friend of mine to explain why his company, Nitto Seiko, could implement projects far faster than we in the States. A fan of American western movies, he thoughtfully paused, and then replied, “Fast gun, slow bullet!” He found decisions here fast on the draw but woefully weak in execution. Japanese companies, he said, invest far more time in the decision making process, sometimes even too long.
Here are some ways I’ve found to build strong support for a decision right from the start.
Tip #1. Your decision-making process is the primary driver of commitment. How your team arrives at its decision will shape later support for implementing it. Agreements which come easy are sometimes the toughest to put into action. Make sure you focus on the quality of your decision-making.
Tip #2. Three personal needs must be met for a team player to energetically support a decision. The first is substantive: He must feel the decision is a good one, the best that could be made under the conditions the team faced. The second is procedural: He must feel the right people had the right type of involvement at the right time. The third is psychological: He must feel his ideas, values, and sense of self esteem were treated with respect. High quality decisions come from meeting all three of these needs.
Tip #3. Design your decision-making process before you have to use it. A fatal error is to plunge headlong into your project without spending enough time to agree on how you will make decisions. Teams who do this can waste hours, even days, in fruitless argument. There are three basic ways to make decisions on a project team: Mandate, Ballot, and Consensus. All three are excellent for making decisions on a project team. The secret is knowing when, and how, to use each.
Tip #4. Mandate. Mandated decisions are when one person, or a small group, makes the decision. This process is used when only one person has the technical expertise to really make a quality decision. For example, deciding the best ….. Mandated decisions are also useful when speed is needed. Battlefield decisions are best made by mandate. Mandated decisions can be fast, decisive, and of high quality. But they do carry a price. Energetic support only comes when all those who must help implement such a decision agree that the person who made it had the authority and expertise to make it in the first place.
Those who make such mandated decisions must also take care to explain the “why” and “how” the decision was made so that fellow team players can understand their role in carrying it out.
Tip #5. Ballot. Voting is often used on a project team to get fast, decision action. It is thought to be one of the most effective ways to make decisions. Unfortunately, balloting can create more problems than it solves. Voting always leaves a minority in its wake. It is this minority which may stubbornly resist carrying out the decision. American politics is replete with example of how the minority has creatively found new ways to defeat majority decisions. On a project team, one of the common phrases heard is the “Don’t blame me…I didn’t vote for that decision in the first place.”
Balloting is good for surfacing positions on issues and reaching agreement on lower grade issues such as meeting dates and times. Whenever it’s used, great care must be taken to make sure the minority understands their role in implementing the decision.
Tip #6. Consensus. By far, consensus is the most powerful process for making quality decisions. Often misunderstood, consensus is not everyone finally agreeing that the best decision has been reached. That is an impossible quest. Consensus decisions are when all agree that, under the circumstances, the best solution has been found and all agree to energetically support it.
Consensus decisions take time. However, such time is an investment wisely made. The payoff is faster, stronger implementation. My experience is that consensus decisions take less time the more the process is used.
And they “stick” far longer.