Focus on the Process to Make Better and Faster Decisions

By Grace Ueng, CEO Savvy Growth

A dozen years ago, as I was preparing my UNC and MIT Sloan teaching syllabi, I included a Harvard Business School case written by Dan Heath. To gain a deeper understanding of the case,  I reached out to Dan for coffee to discuss the case and his recently published first book, Made to Stick. Since then, Dan and his brother Chip have published four landmark best sellers, and we’ve leveraged their research to benefit our coaching clients.

Upon reading his first book, I immediately incorporated insights from Made to Stick into our coaching work. Dan’s SUCCES framework for creating sticky ideas – Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credentialed, Emotional, Story – resonated with me. If you share your ideas in the form of a story that is conveyed simply, evokes emotions and draws out the unexpected with concrete and credentialed facts, you will have a winner. We incorporated his framework into Savvy’s Speaker’s Handbook that we use with clients who hire us to help them improve their presentations.

In recent months, I used Dan’s third book, Decisive, to help a client achieve his top goal:  improving the speed at which he makes decisions. He has a tendency to try to make a perfect decision, which can lead to not making any decision. Consequently we often tell our clients that perfection is NOT a good thing. Of all the executives we have coached, one trait stands out in strong leaders. The ability to make timely, smart decisions.

The overall finding that stuck out the most in Decisive is that process matters more than analysis, by a factor of six, in making good decisions impacting revenues, profits, and market share. Rigorous analysis that is not framed in a good process, is not necessarily valuable. Remember this finding the next time you get stuck in analysis paralysis. Step back, and examine your process and if there isn’t one, implement one. And then trust the process.

My Top 8 Take-Aways in Creating a Good Decision Making Process:

1.    Explore multiple tracks.  Most of us view decisions as binary. Instead, consider shades of gray rather than just black or white. An advisor told me years ago, “You see possibilities where others don’t.” In reading the Heath research, I realize the ability to see broadly is a skill I should keep. Strive to have more than one alternative. Research shows that executives who weigh more options make better and faster decisions.

2.    Seek contrarian views. Too often, we seek validation of what we think is right which leads to narrow thinking. We think a person or idea is great, so keep on looking for more positive signs to reinforce our thinking. Instead, have on hand a devil’s advocate to reality test your assumptions and avoid confirmation or recency bias. Consider the opposite and live with it for at least awhile.

3.    Put some distance between you and your decision. Dan and Chip Heath ask a poignant question in Decisive, “Imagine that tomorrow a successor would take on your role, what would they do?” Board members and consultants can lead by listening and then connecting dots to bring new insights, that management misses because they are too close to the problem.  When we conduct strategic reviews for clients, we listen, synthesize and offer a perspective that often management hasn’t considered.  Being a third party, looking through an objective lens, allows us to see and gather insights that management cannot.

4.    Combine the caution of the prevention mindset with the enthusiasm of the promotion mindset. During the 2000 recession, Staples cut costs by becoming more efficient rather than laying off employees, and kept investing in R&D and new business opportunities. Their results were 30% more profitable than Office Depot, who took only a prevention focused approach, cutting 6% of its workforce and not investing in new businesses. Thinking “AND not OR” is a good corporate strategy.

5.    Find someone who has already solved your problem. Before Sam Walton started Walmart, he was running a variety store in Bentonville and scoured other stores for ideas, often hopping on a bus to drive hundreds of miles to do industry benchmarking. Throughout his career, he kept his eyes out for good ideas. He once said that “most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from someone else.” Don’t reinvent the wheel. We shop the competition and learn from other players in the categories in which our consulting clients compete.

6.    Test it out first. Thinking of working with your spouse? Instead of making a full commitment, try a short term project together first and see how you both like it. And then try another one slightly different. See if you continue to like it. Or don’t like it. I have seen clients do the same thing as they think of partnerships or merging entities. Discover reality rather than predict it!

7.    Pretend you are your best friend. What would he or she tell you to do? When friend or a coach offers advice, they can focus on the single most important factor, while our own thinking flits amongst many variables. The friend or coach can see the forest. We get stuck in the trees.

8.    Create a “Stop Doing” list. Jim Collins developed this concept when he was asked to consider what he would do if he received two phone calls. The first was to learn that he’d inherited $20 million. The second call would inform him of his incurable disease, that he had 10 years left. What would he stop doing? This same issue applies to businesses.  We recently told a consulting client that their biggest problem was their inability to say “No” to a customer or prospect.  What should you STOP doing this week?

What decisions are you grappling to make? What steps will you be sure to add to your process? We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author 

Grace Ueng is Founder & CEO of Savvy Growth, whose mission is to help companies and their leaders achieve their fullest potential. We are a team of consultants and coaches who work on an advisory, project or retained basis for our corporate, private equity, start-up and venture capital sponsor clients.

Founded in 2003, Savvy Growth provides clients marketing strategy, strategic management consulting and execution, and leadership coaching. Savvy Growth has served 200 clients from emerging growth to the Fortune 1000.

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