In Change Management, People Skills, Project Management

There are many techniques around to help with decision making, which typically involve understanding where you need to get to, exploring possible options, gathering information to weigh up the pros and cons and selecting a way forward. But when you’re under pressure and in the thick of it, there often isn’t time to immerse yourself in all this analysis. Even if there was, chances are that your environment is changing so fast that this approach is not helpful.

Tailor the decision making approach to the situation
When dealing with a simple scenario, for example if there is an error in what was delivered to a customer, a straightforward response to rectify the error is sufficient – in these situations there is a clear right answer.

When there are several possible right answers, and you’re working within a fairly stable environment, the approach of analysing, weighing up options and recommending the best solution is still very appropriate. For example choosing a software application to manage the company’s customer data.

But increasingly we find ourselves working in highly complex, bordering on chaotic, environments where there are no perfect answers. Spending a long time analysing possibilities would be pointless because of the level of uncertainty and the pace of change in environments like this.

You may feel under pressure to be seen as decisive, or feel that not coming up with a specific answer is dithering, but it’s difficult for any single individual to fully grasp all the complexities involved and work out the whole solution. So take a more agile step by step approach and ask yourself ‘what one step can we take that will move us forward?’. Make a decision on just this one step and gather feedback to learn more as the path becomes clearer.

The following two factors are key when making decisions in rapidly changing and complex environments:

1.  Don’t make these decisions by yourself – empower the team
For this to work you need to ensure the team understands what the aim is and set clear boundaries about which elements are fixed and not up for discussion, and those that the team can be creative with. The important thing is to empower the team, to allow them to fully engage and make decisions within the boundaries set.

2.  Take small steps and learn from the feedback
Rather than deciding to make major large scale changes, take smaller steps which lead you in that overall direction but give you the opportunity to learn from feedback along the way, so you can refine your ideas. For example, an organisation who needs to lower costs and make efficiencies could make these changes on a grand scale and decide to cut 1000s of jobs in one go. But an alternative approach would be to introduce changes to contracts to reduce the paid hours in a working week, offer sabbaticals and increase part-time working.

A step by step approach means you can learn from the impact of actions and remain much more flexible and responsive to changing conditions as a longer term solution evolves.

What single step will you decide to take today?

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