The need for better decisions – why now?

Better wayMy previous posts about the costs of our mistakes lead to a discussion about the awareness of our colleagues in regard to the importance of the subject. After all, it seems clear to anyone who has some actual experience with management that there always be mistakes and therefore – the risks associated with them. Even more than that, the actual situation of the market today doesn’t suggest any tangible improvement being made in this regard, so is the need for better decisions really understood by today’s Managers or is this just an illusion?

Let’s try to answer this question by delineating how is “today” different from “yesterday” in respect to the need for better decisions.

1.       Permissive environment

Until the explosion of the Information Age, organizations tried their best to control the behavior of the employees to the maximum degree by creating clear protocols to be followed to the letter. This way of action was based on the assumption that the environment is not going to change abruptly rendering those protocols outdated in a moment. Thus the environment for decision-making was pretty strict, which made life easier for Managers because they could know in advance what decisions would need to be made and what would be the options available to them.

But today everything around us is much more fluid and it becomes almost impossible to predict the nature and the timing of future problems, and therefore – of their solutions. In many fields step-by-step protocols are being substituted by Golden Guidelines providing only vague recommendations about possible ways of action instead of rigid top-to-bottom instructions. The expectation today is that of self-management, when most decisions are made inside the teams on the spot, as prescribed by the deservedly popular Agile technology. However, this expectation would prove meaningless if the quality of those on-the-spot decisions would be found wanting due to lack of management skills and tools.

2.       Abundance of choices

The other characteristic of “today” versus “yesterday” in respect to decision-making is much greater variety of options to choose from when weighing a decision. Previously, the lower hierarchical levels were limited in the amount of information passed to them from above, thus limiting their spectrum of possible choices. On the other hand, this made their job much easier because this eliminated the need for complicated methods of weighing the risks and the benefits of every option, because some degree of success could be statistically expected anyway. The higher hierarchical levels enjoyed similar luxury of acting conservatively, and being conservative was considered as respectful as being innovative is considered today.

Today, however, you begin drawing your options from a blank page, because there is a good chance that none of what was tried before will work tomorrow. What are the best tools for the job? Who are the right people to do it? IS THIS THE RIGHT THING TO DO? All those questions and a lot of others may have too many options for possible solutions. It’s quite easy to get lost in the information overflow, especially when no clear criteria for good decisions may be relied upon. This creates additional stress on Managers at all levels, demanding from them a much higher level of decision-making.

3.       Shift of accountability

But most importantly, a general shift has taken place in regard to who’s responsible for making the decisions and for their implementation into practice. The new higher level of freedom for the lower hierarchical levels came with a price – they also became accountable for what’s going on in their department. They are frequently viewed as full partners in every aspect of the work of their teams, and as a result – they’ve become an integral part of the decision-making process inside the team.

Everyone’s work is so interconnected with each other that even such small decisions like answering an e-mail could have a critical impact on the final result. Because living in the Information Age first of all means being a part of the information flow. Take a wrong turn – and crucial information doesn’t get where it needs to while the system is flooded with meaningless messages.

As Generation Y enters the job market with Generation X advancing to the highest executive positions, there are naturally more and more people who perceive this state of affairs as the basic norm. This means that the demand for higher quality of decisions at all levels (which naturally involves making less costly mistakes) will also grow with every passing day. Today’s discussion of how we can make fewer mistakes will be translated into new managerial tools which will deal with this problem in a practical fashion, providing us with a chance to do our jobs better.

4 thoughts on “The need for better decisions – why now?

  1. I agree emphatically.
    Some of the activities that were associated with static roles like manager or leader are shifting to be taken as part time by team members. Concepts like servant leadership, shared leadership and self management are changing the scene and require new skills.

    Fungus

  2. Thanks for the comment Fungus.
    Indeed, having a culture where everyone contributes to the best of their abilities, regardless hierarchical level is very beneficial from many perspectives.

  3. Hi Anya, A great article. I think it is so important to keep improving not only our decisions but our decision making processes. I like the term ‘Adaptive Management’ that is used a lot in the Australian natural resource management space… Learning through doing. In the optimal sense this means documenting the assumptions and decision made in situations without perfect knowledge and then using these along with the results to improve future decisions iteratively.

  4. Hi Sophie, thanks for the great comment.
    You are right, Adaptive Management is very useful in many practises due to its fundamental analytical approach. The secret is to truly follow through the concept without “shortcuts” (like deciding without having valuable data at hand, not following up on lessons learned, etc.) that at the time might seem as fast-track excellent idea, but turns to be costly in the long term.
    Now we are living in the age of prevalent myth that decisions are to be made fast. Unfortunately that causes a vicious circle of making even more wrong decisions.

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