Frustrated by Slow Decision Making?

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

In a recent survey by McKinsey 54% of all respondents report spending more than 30% of their time making decisions and 61% of them say that more than 50% of that time is spent ineffectively.

Time, you think, for some trade-offs: a good decision means involving the right people (sometimes a lot of people) and sacrificing speed; a faster decision might not be quite as good—but might be “good enough.” Either way, experience tells you that in decision making, speed comes at the cost of quality. Does it have to be this way? That same McKinsey survey suggests that there are companies out there making fast, high quality decisions that improve there results. So clearly it doesn't have to be a complete trade off.

It might surprise you (or not) that many companies don't have a clear decision making process or clear roles for decision-making. Heck most don't even differentiate between the type of decisions that are made and use the same approach for all types.

You've all heard of concensus based decision making - inclusive, but time consuming. The dictator model - decisions rolled down from on high, not always well informed. These are two extreme approaches, most companies find themseleves operating in these two at different times or soemwhere in between.

To improve decision-making there needs to be a clear process for the various types of decisions and clear roles for those in the decision-making process.

For example - identify what decisions can be delegated. These generally have a narrow scope. They are frequent and relatively routine elements of day-to-day management. Responsibility for these decisions should be in the hands of those closest to the work, this will usually ensure that outcomes are delivered faster, better and more efficiently executed. It also has the added bonus of improving engagement and accountability.

For your more complex and high imapct decisions there will need to be a process with clear roles. I have P.A.C.E (process owner = Recommender; Approver = Decision Maker; Contributor = Advisers; Executers = Execution partners) , McKinsey has D.A.R.E. Let's look at the later:

Decision maker(s) are the only ones with a vote and the ones with responsibility to decide as they see fit; if they get stuck, they should jointly align on how to escalate the decision or otherwise get the process unstuck, even if this means agreeing to “disagree and commit.”

Advisers give input and shape the decision. They have an outsize voice in setting the context of the decision and a big stake in its outcome—for example, the decision might affect their profit-and-loss statement. But they don’t have a vote on the decision.

Recommenders conduct the analyses, explore the alternatives, illuminate the pros and cons, and ultimately recommend a course of action to the advisers and decision makers. They see the day-to-day implications of the decision, but they also have no vote. In general, the more recommenders the better in the process—but not in the decision meeting itself.

Execution partners don’t give input so much as get deeply involved in implementing the decision, and therefore they must be informed. For speed and clarity, you will need the right ones in the room when the decision is made so they can ask clarifying questions and spot flaws that might hinder implementation. Notably, the number of execution partners doesn’t necessarily depend on the importance of the decision.

For the above to work, having the right people nominated as recommenders is important - they really need to do the bulk of the work and engage the advisors so the picture is clear and detailed enough for the decision maker. It could also make sense to have a 'standardised recommendation format' for different types of decisions for ease of review and consistency of approach.

We can tend to look at decision making in the same way we look at communication - it's something we all do in numerous ways and on numerous occassions throughout the day - so why do we need to put so much thought and effort into it? Well in my experience these two areas are cause for the bulk of the issues around (dis)engagement, agility, rework and a huge costs that generally go unaccounted for!

The benefits of high quality, fast decisions are well documented as it relates to impact on business results. But for me it's the time you get back that is a big win - time you could be spending on strategy, professional and/or personal development, developing your team or just getting out of the office on time!