How Are We Making This Decision?

Guest article written by Levi Nieminen, Ph.D.

There are six small words that every business leader – really every person – ought to build into their everyday vernacular: How are we making this decision?

Office existence is strewn with examples of decision confusion. One person thinks the decision has already been made, while a second person thinks he’s waiting on the approval of a third who has no idea she’s the “decider.” Cue the Dilbert cartoon.

Beyond the folly, there are uglier examples too. Big decisions that are made without the right kind of input tend to go badly. Small decisions routinely get escalated, wasting managers’ time and sucking the life out of people in the process. And decisions of all sizes fail to get implemented because, even though people nodded their heads in the meeting, they’re not really on board.

On the other hand, many high performing teams do much better than these nightmare scenarios. And when you look closely at what they’re doing, it isn’t all that complicated. But it is disciplined, and it is quite intentional. They talk explicitly about how decisions will be made – their “decision process”. The discussions are proactive and achieve a solid analysis of the situation and key priorities. They have a common language for naming the options and discussing the pros and cons. And most importantly, the leaders and key influencers create the space for productive debate, asking others to challenge their assumptions and take an active role in the process. They rinse, they repeat.

In a new article written for Denison’s Transform series, I describe how teams and organizations can take positive steps in this direction. The “how-to” aspect focuses on how to introduce and embed a common language for decision making. People don’t talk about the things for which they lack the language, and the same is true here.

The central context for the article (and my work) is culture. Decision making is smack in the middle of crucial notions of empowerment, collaboration, and trust in organizations. Having more of these things is not only about people being happier and more engaged. It’s also about doing quality work in an efficient manner.

To this end, changing up the decision-making routines in an organization can be a huge lever for culture improvement if it shifts the way leaders think and if it changes the role and involvement that others have. Certainly, these are big ifs and the preconditions for success need to be there for a sea change.

On the other hand, each of us has the power to create a ripple–whether at work or in our personal lives–and perhaps the start can be as simple as using six small words. What’s the worst that can happen?


Levi-NieminenLevi Nieminen, Ph.D. is the Director of Research and a Senior Consultant with Denison Consulting. His work focuses on conducting applied research on organizational culture and leadership and translating that research into improved solutions for clients and shareable knowledge for the larger scientific community.

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