Keeping strategy agile requires the constant ebb and flow of traffic within your business and its plan for success. It means on-ramping and off-ramping priorities while having a team that’s capable of making thoughtful, strategic decisions that are the earmark of a high-performing team.
During this newsletter series, we will be providing tools and exercises to help develop your team’s ability to make thoughtful, strategic decisions – no matter how simple or complex those decisions are. In this introductory post we will cover the common problems organizations face during decision making, outline the ground-rules for great decision-making, learn about the sliding scale of effort it takes to solve a problem in an organization, and we’ll provide a simple exercise you can use to solve simple strategic issues within your team.
Jump to Other Sections in this Post:
Decision-Making & Strategy: The Intersection of Data, Leadership, and Strategy
Success in strategic planning and strategy management comes down to the speed and fidelity to which your team can make informed decisions – big or small – about the actions your organization takes. When we see teams struggle in strategic planning or the strategic management process, it can often be attributed to an organization’s inability to make the right decisions with speed.
The outcome of this newsletter series is to help your team improve their capability to identify issues within your organization, be empowered to tackle them head-on, and make confident decisions quickly. Here are a few common problems we see within organizations who struggle in making strategic decisions:
- They have a fear of negative consequences. This symptom is self-explanatory and quite common. In any organization, making the wrong decision can have negative consequences for both the business and the individuals who operate inside of it.
Solution: Instead of being scared of consequences, encourage your team to learn from their failures. Sometimes the right decisions aren’t made. Instead of focusing on the failure, focus on the learnings from that failure. What will you do differently next time? What can you do to make your decision-making process stronger?
- They are unsure how to approach some decisions or problems. Sometimes organizations don’t have tools or processes in place to help their team understand how to approach decisions or foundational business problems.
Solution: In truth, this is one of the reasons we decided to create this newsletter series. But when in doubt about how to approach a decision-making process or problem, seek help. Structure group discussions,ask a mentor or colleague for ideas, or feel free to ask us! Inaction is worse than taking no action at all.
- They are unsure what can be deemed a good or bad decision. There is simply no clarity about what is a good or bad decision, or what the ground rules for decision-making are within the organization.
Solution: Set ground rules for what constitutes a good decision. Great strategic decisions are backed by data, debated amongst your team, and outweigh other possibilities. Later, we will help you outline what goes into a good decision.
- There is a lack of transparency why a decision is made. Very simply, many organizations lack the transparency that is required before, during, and after a major business decision to make the entire organization feel included.
Decision Making Ground Rules
When we work with clients, these are the ground rules we often provide to help set the expectation about what goes into solving a problem and what the expectations are from everyone involved in the process. These healthy ground rules help communicate both how you’ll interact and outlines what constitutes a good solution:
- Any decision involves at least some information, data gathering, and analysis. We never act on gut alone.
- Proposals to a problem must render a solution.
- Build in some “hang time” to weigh the options.
- Follow-through: communicate, implement, and validate if a solution is working. Adapt if necessary.
- Don’t move too quickly. All discussions must have dialogue (understanding) before discussion (decision). Otherwise, decisions don’t stay made.
Identifying the Level of Effort Needed to Make a Decision
Before making any decision or deciding any approach, assess the level of effort it will take to address a problem or challenge. We’ve created a handy sliding scale outline of the key characteristics that influence how difficult a problem may be to solve and what will be required of your team to solve said problem.
An Exercise to Solve Simple Strategic Issues
Now that we’ve covered the ground rules and gave a proper introduction for problem solving, we can cover this simple exercise to guide your organization to solve strategic issues.
- When to Use: During a monthly or quarterly Strategic or QBR
- Why: To address and solve potential areas of concern or new opportunities that will affect the organization’s momentum, performance and direction.
- Ideal Participants: Executive and management teams, those that have the authority to take action on the outcome.
- Time Needed: 60 minutes
HOW IT WORKS
Step One – Framing the Issue
An executive brings an issue to the table, prepared to speak to the following points. Simple handout with background data is always welcome but isn’t required!
- How do we ____?
- This issue is important to me because ____.
- What we have done to date is ____.
- What I want the group to help me with is ____.
Step Two – Clarifying Questions
Everyone else is allowed to ask clarifying questions to the person who brought up the issue. The other people in the group are explicitly not permitted to provide observations or suggestions – NO SOLUTIONS.
Step Three – Reframing
Sometimes, the questions help identify that the wrong “how do I” statement was proposed. Group members are allowed to nominate suggestions for an alternative “how do we” statement. Ultimately, the executive (in this case) either sticks with the original “how do I” statement or changes it to one of the other suggestions.
Step Four – Solutions
Everyone in the room provides at least one solution to the issue – round-robin style. The person that brought up the issue is not allowed to speak, defend or redirect. All solutions are captured on a flip chart or whiteboard.
Step Five – Action
The person with the issue reviews the solutions, asks clarifying questions and selects one or two solutions (or a combo) that he or she will commit to taking by a certain date.
LEARNING & REFLECTION
At the next monthly Strategic or QBR, commit to starting the meeting with a report-out from the last issue. The person with the issue comes prepared to speak to the following:
- What action was taken and what might we know about the results?
- What, if any, follow up is still required?
- What did you learn upon implementation? What would you do differently?
As we continue in this newsletter series, we will be covering other exercises for your team to leverage in the strategic decision-making process. We hope these exercises will be beneficial from a process perspective, but more importantly, we hope it helps empower your team to experience the agility and velocity of a high-functioning, well-oiled team!