Every day is a new day and we wake up to new set of problems to solve which require the best possible decisions to be made to move ahead. As we grow in experience, we continuously refine our approach to solving problems in a more structured and comprehensive way, reducing blind spots and putting ourselves in the best possible situation to solve them.
The problem-solving process requires decisions to be made along the way. Your ability to make decisions swiftly so that you can move onto the next milestone has to be self-initiated. If you require someone else to make the decision, then you are not being an effective problem solver. Making decisions can be uncomfortable for many reasons and the common reasons for this are that there isn’t enough data, or the individual does not want to be accountable. This is a stumbling block for leaders across all levels of the organization, the closer you are to the problem the more likely you can’t see the bigger picture and don’t realise that we live in an imperfect world and businesses need to make do with what information they have.
There are also employees who believe that the organization has not empowered them to make decisions. Then there are those who believe decision making is for their managers to make as its above their “pay grade” so to speak – and then they wonder why they keep getting passed over. In both these cases of differing decisions the outcome is that execution is hampered as timely decisions are differed till that certain someone needs to be briefed and their decision is sought. Conversely there is another group of trigger-happy decision makers who just make decisions and hope for the best.
The consequence of repeated poor decision making is a reputational risk. A poor track record will not go un-noticed and there can be severe career ramifications. Good decision making comes with experience and by understanding the levers within which the business operates in. Decision making is a risk-based judgement call where the inherent risk is accepted and through quality decision making the residual risk is further reduced. In large organizations its not uncommon for executive leaders to be compensated for being material risk takers.
We all make decisions everyday outside our work. We decide how to get to work, what to eat, when to go to the mall and often even decide for others in our family. So how is it that in our personal affairs we are willingly making decisions without blinking? At this juncture I would request you to pause for five minutes to think about all the decisions you made today and then examine the nature of the hardest personal decision you have made in the last day. Were you confident in making the decision? What gave you the confidence? What was the impact of getting the decision right? What if you got the decision wrong? How much time did it take to decide?
That’s a lot to unpack so now let’s try and relate your personal approach to decisions in the workplace. Repeat the scenario but in a work context and if you did this exercise diligently you should have picked up the slight nuances and should make you reflect on why when it comes to work there is some trepidation.
Getting better at decision making is possible if we stay true to ourselves. Start with a decision log where you keep track of the issues, the assumptions which were made and the expected result. Then go back in time and reflect on what went well and what was unexpected. With hindsight it is easy to go back to do this retrospective and learn. It is tempting to not log this down as it is fresh in your mind, doing so will dilute the learning process. As you improve the scorecard you will gain in confidence. If things don’t improve then its possible that the quality of the decisions is being impacted by the inputs which go into the decision-making process.
Another aspect which is not looked at is considering the outcome which you want and being able to closely anticipate what the future outcome is likely to be. Great decisions makers can connect the dots outside of what the immediate problem at hand is. They can consistently glean on other bits of information and external factors to anticipate outcomes.
Product managers spend a significant amount of their time solving problems and make decisions every hour. They do this at every phase of the product life cycle, its amazing the extent at which these decisions are made from the minutest of details on the product design to the grandest of decisions of what goes into the product roadmap. Depending on where you are on the career ladder you are either making decisions on your product or spending more time making decisions managing stakeholders. One last tip, decision making is also about managing people’s egos and to collectively work as a team we should strive to get to the bottom of the truth rather than focusing on who made the wrong decision. One can never get every decision right, learn from the past and get better at it.