Maximizing Your Effectiveness by Facilitating Decision-Making
By Angel Gomez, President, AG Gomez Consulting, LLC
AGGomez170%20small.jpg When I made the transition into a Chief HR Officer role for a division of Walmart Stores, Inc. in 2006, no one warned me about the chaos associated with senior leadership meetings. Suddenly, I found myself getting called into meeting after meeting to endlessly “discuss” issues of apparent importance to the business. I had no idea what my role was in relation to the senior leadership team or how to contribute to the resolution of issues. Decision-making was chaotic, and, worst of all, I was ineffective and knew that would impact my ability to perform in the HR function.

So, I made it my mission to instill a little discipline into the business and bring some order to the meeting process. I took a calculated risk and began to actively facilitate the decision-making process of my business leaders. It was the best practice I ever employed in adding value to the business. Since leaving the corporate world, I have taught this practice to thousands of leaders around the world to help them maximize their effectiveness.

The Challenges of Making Decisions in a Business Environment
Most of the business leaders you serve understand the need to include other people in making decisions, even when they are empowered to make the decision themselves. That understanding and their interest in being “inclusive” motivates leaders to get more people involved in the process. But getting too many people involved creates an entirely new set of problems: Decisions take too long; disagreement ensues; conflict remains unresolved; nothing gets done; etc. 

So, the natural inclination of some leaders is to get the least amount of people involved to control the process. They, quite purposefully, let only certain people know important information and leave other key stakeholders out of the decision-making process. This creates an entirely different set of problems: Decisions are put on hold or stopped; stakeholders get upset; trust erodes; etc.

This is the challenge of making decisions. Leaders know it’s important to get others involved, but getting too many people involved causes problems, so they exclude key stakeholders from the process, causing even more problems. The solution to this challenge is finding both the right number and the right people to include for any given decision depending on how much buy-in the leader needs for that decision.

Level One Decision-Making – Make the Call Yourself

Level One Decision-Making simply involves the leader making the decision alone without input. It’s a perfectly good way to make a decision. Level One does not require any buy-in from anyone. It requires only that others comply with the decision.

Level One is appropriate when the leader has most, if not all, the information and expertise necessary to make the decision. It’s quick and (hopefully) clear, which is important because most executives have little time to waste. 

Overusing Level One, however, has unintended consequences. If leaders consistently fail to get others involved in decisions, they will quickly develop a reputation as a dictator. Moreover, they may fail to consider other important data and perspectives to help them make better decisions.

Level Two Decision-Making – Seek Some Input
Level Two Decision-Making involves getting other perspectives and opinions from individual stakeholders before making a final decision. Here, the leader may have some point of view or no point of view at all about what action to take and calls on a few individuals to help him or her make the final decision.

Level Two is appropriate when a leader is simply not sure about the right course of action. In calling on others, the leader gains additional data and opinion points that may shed some light. Other information or unforeseen consequences could also arise.

There are, however, drawbacks to using Level Two. For example, key stakeholders whose input is required may not be available. Personal agendas may come into play. One of the biggest dangers is calling on those that are either not qualified or are “go to” people who always agree with the leader. 

Level Three Decision-Making – Call a Meeting
Level Three Decision-Making is the most popular method of decision-making in North America. It takes the form of the ubiquitous and dreaded meeting. At this level, the leader calls key stakeholders into a room, conference call or videoconference so that the decision-making process takes place all at once, supposedly. 

Level Three works because all stakeholders are present to have a dialogue and provide input, in real time, to the leader. It promotes efficient communication, robust debate and allows for everyone to contribute his or her perspective. 

But everyone hates meetings, generally speaking. They take up too much time and no one has time to waste. They end up as pointless discussions without ever reaching an end. They are poorly run without a purpose or desired outcomes.

Level Four Decision-Making – Get Consensus
Level Four Decision-Making is making decisions by consensus. Consensus is reached when every stakeholder can support the decision that the group makes together. That is distinguished from unanimous agreement, in which everyone must agree with the decision. This is a nuanced and important distinction. 

Level Four works because everyone can get behind the decision. Great leaders prefer getting 100% of the team behind the 80% solution vs. 51% of the team behind the 100% solution. Why? There is a greater likelihood of success in execution in the former than the latter. 

Consensus takes an extraordinary amount of time to reach. In many circumstances consensus cannot be reached, and so it’s important to have a fallback position on decision-making, e.g., Level One–Three.

Level Five Decision-Making – Delegate
Level Five Decision-Making involves delegating the decision to another person or to a group of people, with clear guidelines and limitations. Delegation, however, is not abdication, and the leader must remain involved to coach and ensure the original guidelines and limitations are being honored.

Delegation is a wonderful way to develop the decision-making capabilities of others in the organization. Those to whom the decision is delegated to are fully bought in and fully involved. Perhaps most beneficial is that delegation frees up the leader’s time to focus on other priorities while other critical work is handled by the delegee.

But delegation is not always a good method of decision-making. It’s fraught with peril, especially for those control freaks out there. Delegation to those that lack capability will ensure failure.

Facilitating the Decision-Making Process of Your Business Leaders
The one thing you can do, starting today, to maximize your effectiveness as a senior leader is facilitate the decision-making process for your senior leadership teams. Your business leaders look to you for advice on all sorts of matters, not just HR issues.

  1. Identify the Real Decision and the Real Decision-Maker
    Use your inquiry skills and start by asking your business leaders this question: “What is the actual decision that needs to be made?” I know it sounds obvious, but the answer to that question seldom is. Then ask this question: “Who gets to make the call on that decision?” You’ll be surprised at how many times it’s someone other than your business leader. It could be his or her superior or another function.

  2. Decide How to Decide
    Armed with the decision-making options above, you are now prepared to advise your leaders on how best to make the decision. If the decision is clear and there is little need for buy-in, recommend Level One. If the leader has some idea but is not sure what to do, suggest Level Two and seek input of others. If he or she has more time and can get key stakeholders together in a room or a conference, have them hold a meeting, Level Three. If it’s a long-term major initiative requiring a great deal of buy-in suggest consensus, Level Four. Finally, ask whether someone or some other group is best qualified to make the decision to free up the leader’s time and attention for other matters, Level Five.

  3. Decide Who to Include
    Help your leader solve for his or her dilemma by maximizing the number of stakeholders that are appropriate for the decision. Keep asking if there is anyone else that has a key stake that may have been left out inadvertently. Challenge them when they want to leave out those that you know need to be involved and find the right way to include them.

  4. Decide How to Announce the Decision
    How many times have you been surprised by a decision that has been in the works for months without you knowing about it? I hold this firm belief: Anyone whose work is going to be impacted by a decision, at the bare minimum, has the right to know about it. Get crystal clear about how the decision will be communicated.
HR Pulse is a bi-monthly resource published exclusively for the members of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association.  c c [email protected]