Effective leaders go through six steps as part of their decision-making process. It’s very similar to skiers on a giant slalom. They’re met with different obstacles — a series of gates — and as they get closer to the bottom of the hill, they’re typically moving increasingly faster, trying to navigate the gates without missing any.
Similarly, when making decisions, the deeper you get into the process, the faster you’re moving and the easier it is to skip steps. That’s why when making decisions it’s important to recognize you’re going through a series of stages, and that you must pass through each stage before advancing to the next.
There are six steps for effective decision-making.
1. Classify the problem: Is it a one-time event or is this a generic, repeatable problem? On-time delivery is an example of a repeatable problem in the manufacturing industry, whereas a merger or acquisition is an example of a one-time event. It’s important to recognize and understand what type of problem you have. The majority of the problems are generic and repeatable.
2. Define the decision you’re trying to make: What are you actually dealing with? Sometimes people try to solve symptoms rather than getting to the root of the problem. It’s important to ask questions and try to get insight into whether you’re addressing the cause or the effect.
3. Identify boundaries: You want to control what you spend energy on to resolve a problem and have a clear understanding of the boundaries. For example, a condition may be that the solution to a business problem can’t change other customers’ on-time delivery. Even if it’s your No. 1 customer, you won’t sub-optimize everyone else at the expense of getting the top client all the resources. That’s a boundary.
4. Do what’s right, not what’s popular: In some cases, the right thing to do may also be popular, but that’s not always the case. If you go through a structured decision-making process, it should be quite evident what the right answers are. And everyone who went through the process with you should come to the same conclusion as you, such as agreeing that it’s either a symptom or a root problem. It’s easy to make the right decision when you discover it together.
If you don’t take the time to go through the process, or you skip some steps, people will gravitate toward the popular decisions because they’re the easiest. But leaders who make popular decisions don’t typically last as leaders.
5. Understand what it’s going to take to make the decision happen: For example, you can decide that on-time delivery is going to rise from 85 percent to 99.9 percent. You can make that decision, but you may need to re-validate it if you don’t have a real understanding of the capacity and capability of the people tasked with getting the job done.
Be sure to consider what it will take to move your decision to action. Often, a decision is thought to be flawed, but it turns out the capability and commitment simply were not there.
6. Revisit your decision: Test and validate all the assumptions you made. You can use boundaries identified during the decision-making process to measure how you did. Testing and validating should be part of the regular decision-making process, but it often doesn’t happen because you move on to the next decision. Make sure you take advantage of the knowledge to be gained from reviewing your decisions.
Keep your eye on the slalom gates — or stages — throughout the decision-making process. Don’t let yourself move so fast that you skip steps, otherwise the decision you choose to implement may be useless because it was based on flawed information.