The ability to make decisions efficiently is an essential success factor for companies, regardless of the industry they are in. The faster a company is able to form shared views and rate ideas, the faster it can react and adapt to changes. As complexity increases, reaching decisions typically requires the input of various experts, which makes the decision making process slower. How to break bottle necks in decision making?
Decision making in companies is becoming more collective than before, and decisions typically require opinions from various experts across the organization. In order to reach a decision quickly, a common view needs to be formed efficiently.
As the number of participants increases, decision making becomes more complex and thus slower. There is more information available than ever to support decisions; it can be acquired more easily and at a lower cost than before. The easy access to information does not mean that people would not play the main role in decision making – on the contrary. If you want people to commit themselves to the decisions, you need to make sure that everyone has truly been able to participate in the decision making process.
How to make decisions both collectively and as efficiently as possible? Forming shared views becomes more efficient by using facilitation methods, by including only relevant people in the decision making process – and by rethinking the whole decision making forum, with the help of digital tools.
1. Split large decision items into smaller, human-sized decision points.
In general, it is easier to reach small decisions than bigger ones. Try to split large decision items into into smaller decision points that you bring to the table one by one, by choosing the suitable facilitation methods in advance. This way, lengthy meetings can be avoided and you will reach the decision sooner.
The step-by-step approach gives you concrete results along the way. You will be able to react to changes faster and see the big picture more easily.
2. Involve only the right people.
Reaching just the right decisions requires that the participants have a shared understanding on the matters – for example pros, cons, consequences, risks, opportunities and so on. If they do not, they will not commit themselves to the decision.
It is far easier to steer a smaller group of people than a bigger one. Make sure to involve only the people needed in each phase – do not invite anybody ”just in case”, not even to virtual meetings.
3. Instead of shared time, find a shared channel.
Often, finding the suitable calendar slot for the meeting takes more time than the decision item itself. Even when the meeting is set, the agenda might need to be reset as someone cancels at the last minute.
During the digital era, collaborative decision making does not need to depend on time or place. Thanks to new tools, busy key people can participate in the decision making no matter where they are located, when it suits them the best.
In our daily work at Sofigate, we use an online service called Roundtable that brings together the best sides of facilitation methods and social media. It requires from the decision makers only a daily engagement of 15 minutes, whenever they have the time.
Time and place-independent online tools make collaborative decision making more efficient and also bring down the costs, as potential travel expenses decrease.
However, professional facilitation, management skills and promoting trust can not be replaced by any tools. When the working environment feels safe, people are willing to share their expertise collectively and are more likely to reach good decisions – no matter what the decision forum is.
If you had to mention one thing describing the era of digitalization, what would it be? I'd say the need for speed. Competition tightens and changes within industries happen faster than ever before. For decision making this obviously means that decisions should be made quicker - and hopefully just the right decisions.
To ensure the decision really is the right one, managers and directors need to gather insight from the substance experts - no one want's to make a decision without knowing enough about the matter. In this sense the digital era increases the need for collective decision making - for example the CMO, the CTO, the CIO (and / or the CDO) and the CEO need to co-operate efficiently to reach the best decisions.
In general there are at least three challenges characterizing collective decision making in the digital era:
Lack of shared time
Because of the need for speed, the key experts are too busy to give proper input to the decision making. Meanwhile the management struggles in getting the key people round the same table and therefore the need for speed is actually slowing down the decision making which again increases the need for speed. The cycle is ready and in the meantime the risk for a delayed decision increases. The more agile competitor has probably already made the decision while the others are still searching for empty slots in their calendars.
Inefficient (and expensive) meetings
If the management happens to get the key people together to discuss about important topics requiring decisions, the meetings are often inefficient and the shared time is not very well spent. Often people without required expertise are invited to the meetings just in case and the total cost of a single meeting is rarely calculated. On the other hand digital devices often get more attention than the actual meeting topic. Bad meetings is a popular theme for blogs and articles - my earlier post stresses the importance of proper facilitation.
Lack of shared views
In deciding on complex matters, numerous experts with different backgrounds and agendas need to work efficiently together. Reaching just the right decisions requires that the participants have shared understanding on the matters - for example pros, cons, consequences, risks, opportunities and so on. Since proper facilitation methods are rarely used in (management) meetings, the participants might leave the room without a shared understanding and the decisions are then made without proper commitment. Often the lack of shared time and inefficient meetings are actually causing the lack of shared view since the group doesn't have enough time to concentrate on the essentials.
What can be done differently?
Obviously decision making varies between organizations and some of them are more developed when it comes to digitalization. Still generally speaking it's easier to make small decisions than large decisions. Splitting the large decision items into smaller human sized decision points helps to retain the agility in the decision making and allows one to constantly identify and rate the best ideas - which is essential in gaining competitive advantage in the digital era.
It's also easier to reach a decision involving small group of people instead of a large one. Therefore involving only the right people makes it easier to come up with shared understanding about the matter - also leading to higher commitment to the decisions. While digital services and tools allow managers to involve large groups into collective work, involving just the right individuals often brings the best ROI.
Using time and place independent online solutions between (and even instead of) the meetings helps to better leverage the limited time. Proper online facilitation combines the open discussions with ratings and prioritizations and valuations allowing the key people to give their input when they have the time (where ever they are located) as well as identify the best ideas.
Today’s business world is drowning into PowerPoint slides - especially into the ones with too much information and bad design. It’s a pity since many business managers and executives are actually very good at illustrating ideas in a simple way: drawing sketches on flip boards during meetings. And usually those work well during meetings - but where do the drawings disappear afterwards? Why wouldn't they work in business presentations?
After meetings the same people usually turn the simplified sketches into corporate style complicated PowerPoint presentations; bullet point lists, too much text and various sized boxes because “the slides have to look professional”. In other words (to generalize just a bit) “the same as we've always done here.”
Unfortunately "professional looking" often means (in addition to boring...) increased amount of information and less simplicity causing audience to loose the key points. Creating presentations with the same sketches as in the meeting rooms, has many advantages - for example:
1. Differentiation. Very few people create sketched presentation and therefore these presentations stand out of the crowd. When it comes to business presentations, the crowd is at least 30 million presentations worldwide - each day. The differentiation happens inside organizations but even more if the presentations are shared in social media. Since the sketched presentations stand out of the crowd...
2. The audience remembers them better. According to a Stanford Business School study, whiteboard style visuals cause higher recall in favor of PowerPoint presentation especially in sales use. The drawings are also found to be more interesting and engaging even few days after having seen the presentation.
3. Learning by simplifying. Creating a sketched presentation is not just about delivering a different visual look. A good sketch forces the creator to really think what’s important and what’s not, and to be able to do that, one has to understand the substance. Simplifying complicated matters also takes the focus away from details and let’s the crowd concentrate on the essentials. Therefore sketches suit perfectly in situations where you have to illustrate the big picture; concepts, strategies, processes, dependencies etc.
4. It’s easy and fast. “I can’t draw” is the most used phrase when talking about sketching - and the most false answer. According to Dan Roam (the author of the book “The Back of the Napkin”) you only need to be able to draw six visual elements to create effective visuals - anyone can do that! Then again drawing stick figures and other simple elements with free hand is often way faster than finding the correct PowerPoint settings and styles.
Thanks to tablet devices and stylus pens, creating sketches has become both easy and cost efficient, since no extra drawing devices are needed. There are plenty of apps and software in the market for each operating system. Using an app for vector graphics allows one to even finalize the sketches with a computer making things even easier.
Since the technology is no longer an issue, the only barriers to climb are courage to try new things and discipline for some practicing.
In other words just the things that usually make things hard.