Analysis of business problems is a course I seem to be slowly adopting. The challenge is that I am not getting as up to speed as I would love to. In the MBA program, it is a crucial course that makes decision-making process easy. The course is designed to address the issues that stand in the way of making optimal decisions. Maybe the reason for my challenge is because it consistently challenges my thinking. Anyway, I love a challenge, so I am up to it.
Making decisions is the most important role of a manager and the quality of those decisions can make or break an individual. However, the tricky part is that it is one of the easiest things to get wrong. A Harvard Business Review article says that most of us get decision-making all wrong because we take the least productive approach: advocacy. We tend to argue our position with a passion that prevents us from considering opposing views. We downplay our position’s weaknesses to boost our chances of “winning.” We then attend decision-making meetings fully prepared for a battle of wills. The consequences of this are irritable exchanges that discourage innovative thinking and suppress diverse, valuable viewpoints.
A much more productive approach to decision-making is through inquiry. With inquiry, you carefully consider a variety of options, work with others to discover the best solutions and encourage creative thinking. Apart from this approach, there will be a need to suppress disagreements. Decision-making by inquiry brings about high-quality decisions that advance a company’s objectives.
Inquiry promotes constructive conflict and accepts ambiguity. There is a need to balance division during early discussions with teamwork and oneness during implementation.
The Three Cs of Decision Making
Based on research, to make quality decisions, master the “three C’s” of decision making:
1. Constructive Conflict
Conflict during decision making takes two forms: cognitive (relating to the substance of the work) and affective (stemming from inter- personal friction). The first is crucial to effective decision making while the second is destructive. To increase cognitive conflict while decreasing affective:
- Require healthy debate. As a rule, ask tough questions and expect well-framed responses. Pose unexpected theoretical questions that stimulate productive thinking.
- Prohibit language that triggers defensiveness. Open contradictory remarks or questions with sentences that remove blame and fault. Let your arguments make good sense, but let me play devil’s advocate for a moment.
- Break up natural groups. Assign people to tasks without consideration of natural loyalties. Require people with different interests to work together.
- Shift individuals out of long term positions. During decision making, ask people to play functional or managerial roles different from their own. Let junior employees play the role of managers.
- Challenge participants to revisit key information. Ask them to examine underlying assumptions and gather more facts.
To gain your team’s acceptance and support of a decision-making outcome even if you’ve rejected their recommendations ensure that they perceive the decision-making process as fair. To do that demonstrate consideration throughout the process:
- From the onset, show openness to new ideas and willingness to accept different views. Avoid indicating you’ve already made up your mind.
- During the discussion, listen attentively. Make eye contact and show patience while others explain their positions. Take notes, ask questions, and probe for deeper explanations.
- Afterward, explain the rationale behind your decision. Detail the criteria you used to select a course of action. Spell out how each participant’s arguments affected the final decision.
In addition to stimulating constructive conflict and showing consideration, bring the decision process to closure at the appropriate time. Avoid two problems:
- Deciding too early. Decision participants may readily accept the first reasonable option rather than thoughtfully analysing options. Unclear objections will surface later to prevent cooperative action during the crucial implementation stage. Watch for latent discontent in body language: furrowed brows, crossed arms, the curled-up posture of defiance. Call for a break, encourage each dissenter to speak up, then reconvene. Seek input from people known for raising hard questions and offering fresh perspectives.
- Deciding too late. striving for fairness, people insist on hearing every view and resolving every question before reaching closure.
When taken together, the “three Cs” are meant to facilitate the generation of multiple ideas and alternatives and produce a well-thought-out solution. The goal of using the three Cs is not to persuade the group to adopt your point of view, but rather, on identifying the best course of action (Garvin & Roberto, 2001). To this end, the use of the three Cs encourages critical thinking and the challenging of one another’s ideas, but not the attack of one another. “The implicit assumption is that a consummate solution will emerge from a test of strength among competing ideas rather than duelling positions” (p. 3).
- Garvin, D.A. & Roberto, M.A. (2001). What you don’t know about making decisions. Harvard Business Review, 1-2.