This article is for business owners or those who own a company. What’s the very first decision you make each day? For some it comes while still in bed. “Should I get up or hit the snooze button?” For those who lay their clothes out the night before, have no children, and are locked into an unwavering morning routine, including the content and quantity of breakfast, that first decision of the day can be postponed. Now that I’ve written that, I’m really curious to know how long someone could actually avoid that first decision. Not that it matters. Avoiding a few dozen decisions in the morning may reduce initial stress, but it’s only a drop in the bucket of what’s to come.
We make thousands of decisions every day. Many are easy, but others are complex, stressful, or both. Because there are so many decisions and because they are literal forks in the road with dramatic impact on results, costs, time, feelings, and relationships, how you make decisions is extremely important. This is why decision-making is a top priority when I work with clients to create a culture of clarity.
The best way to make decisions involves a four-step process that allows you to “SOAR through decisions,” whether alone or in a group. I won’t go into the details of that process now, because I want to focus on the value of having a process, not the process itself. If your decisions actually follow the four distinct steps of SOAR and involve the right people at each of those steps, with transparency, the benefits are numerous and dramatic:
1. You’ll make better decisions.
When you conflate the four steps of decision-making into one muddled discussion, it stands to reason that you won’t make the best decision. Instead, your decisions are more likely to be governed by one of three forces:
- Fatigue – The winner is the most cohesive idea on the table when the energy expires.
- Enthusiasm – The winner is the idea most fervently expressed by the loudest reputable group.
- Authority – The winner is the obvious favorite of the most senior individual.
These forces do not produce sound decisions.
2. You’ll save time and make better use of resources.
A lack of process clarity guarantees a slower, more convoluted path to the desired outcome. Or even a disappointing outcome. This is true whether you are doing something like building a boat or making a decision. If you step logically through a proven process, you will waste less time and make use of the right resources at the right time. If you follow a muddled process to build a boat and want expert help for all aspects of the process, you would have to have all the experts present the entire time and they would be stepping all over each other trying to advise you. You would never build a boat that way. You would learn the process, follow it in sequence, and call on the help you needed at each step. So why do you make decisions by hauling all the experts into a room at one time and trying to tackle all the steps simultaneously?
3. All employees will be able to contribute more effectively.
In the health care world, there is a proven process called SBAR – Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation. Because it is widely known and understood, it creates what I call shared process clarity and gets everyone on the same page quickly, knowing what to expect and how to contribute. By focusing on each clear step one at a time, clarity of purpose is also achieved. As a result, the Situation and each subsequent step can be described with great clarity. If other practitioners know something different, they can easily chime in to enhance or clarify. Every employee can contribute more effectively when operating in an environment with this kind of clarity. The same benefits accrue when you “SOAR through decisions.”
4. Professional development is enhanced.
This clarity of purpose and process created by SBAR and SOAR is also tremendously instructive. Each time one practitioner hears another state the Situation or the Background or other, he learns and improves his own ability to formulate relevant information.
The O in SOAR stands for Objectives. These are the goals and constraints – the decision criteria – that must guide the decision. Just think about the developmental value of employees gaining a clear understanding of the criteria guiding decisions that affect them. It is enormous. That understanding is the road to greater business acumen and the priorities and culture of the company. The same applies to the other steps of this or any other process. The clarity of purpose provides tremendous learning.
5. People will accomplish more faster.
When you know exactly what you are trying to achieve, you can do it faster. Period. I doubt that requires more explanation. Speed comes from greater clarity of purpose and process.
6. Commitment will be stronger.
Employees are most committed when they believe decisions are made using a logical, informed, and fair process with their interests represented. Muddled processes don’t provide much evidence of logic, good input, fairness, or representation of interests. Muddled decision processes create skeptics and cynics, not committed employees. On the other hand, if employees believe the people and process were careful and thorough, they will support decisions even when the decisions turn out to be stupid.
7. Employee satisfaction and engagement will improve.
Employee engagement is a hot topic that I discussed a few weeks ago in 10 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Program Is Hurting Your Company. Employee satisfaction and engagement hinge on how easily and effectively employees can contribute (see #3) and whether the organization operates in such a way that commitment is created (see #6). Since how you make decisions directly affects both of those, it will also affect employee satisfaction and engagement.
8. Employees will be able to let go and focus.
When you don’t trust that the people around you are making smart decisions, it is natural to want to be involved so you can try to help prevent disaster or at least will see it coming and avoid a nasty surprise. This is human nature. At the same time, everyone has too much to do. By creating clarity of purpose, process, and roles, people learn to trust the system and let go. Once that happens, they can get back to their top priorities and amp up their ability to focus.
9. Delegation will be easier and more effective.
One of the biggest problems with delegation is that delegating almost anything includes delegating decisions. Well if you treat decisions as one muddled step, your only choices are to do things yourself or throw the task over the wall and hope for the best. However, if all parties have shared process clarity about the steps of making decisions, it is a cinch to delegate a task and arrange for check-ins at appropriate steps.
10. Employees will feel a stronger sense of ownership.
I’m working with a Fortune 100 company right now that gets totally stuck on simple decisions. Why? Because they haven’t figured out what decision they are making and are trying to make several at once.
This, by the way, is Step #1. The S in SOAR stands for Statement – specify the decision you need to make. I’ve observed numerous executive teams who think they are focused but are really working on five decisions and two plans simultaneously. And they wonder why they keep going in circles. Consciously executing Step #1 of SOAR would put them on a fast and clear path to progress.
Meanwhile, this global monster I mentioned has several employees doing their best to collect information and make suggestions and generally drive an agenda without knowing what that agenda is. Give me another week and I’ll have them straightened out. In the meantime, the executive in this case is probably wondering why these employees haven’t taken ownership and made things happen. Add clarity of purpose, process, and roles to this situation and these employees would know what decision they are making, which steps they own, and how to proceed. Clarity of purpose, process, and roles are essential to unleashing ownership.
11. People will make fewer mistakes.
Since decisions are so common, messy decision processes create plenty of room for errors and misunderstandings. I already mentioned better decisions, so let’s talk about misunderstandings and the many mistakes the originate in misunderstandings. Messy decision processes rarely have crystal clear endings, especially because messy processes often lead to re-decision the next day. The messier a process, the easier it is for someone to walk out of the room with the wrong message.
12. Introverts can stop waiting for Godot!
Introverts are notorious for waiting for the right moment to interject their comments. I know because I am one. Since talking isn’t an introvert’s default behavior, they only talk when they have a purpose and something to say. And if their purpose doesn’t match the conversation, they don’t talk. So they wait for the right time. And in a wandering conversation, the right time never comes. It may come close, they get ready to speak, and then someone takes the conversation in a new direction and they are left waiting for Godot, whom you know never shows, if you’re familiar with the play.
Finally, consider that many decisions provide no obvious winning alternative. In many cases, some alternatives are so similar or surrounded by so many unknowns that logic will not provide a definitive choice. In those cases, you may as flip a coin. While making the absolute best decision is often important, how you leave people feeling is always important. Decisions made with clarity produce the best results across the board.
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