zen habits : breathe

The Fine Art of Decision-Making – 7 Tips for Getting Decisions Made Easier

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Monica Enand of Zapproved.

We live in a hyper-connected world and we all struggle with managing information and our workload so that we can accomplish what we need to accomplish. A big component of that is working with others. Even if you are a lone wolf, sooner or later, your interdependence will compel you to collaborate. This post will offer some helpful advice on gaining control in this aspect of your life so you can work effectively and efficiently with others.

We work and collaborate with others because we need their ideas and expertise to achieve a greater goal. The foundation of teamwork are agreements that we make, explicitly and implicitly, about what we want to do together. Building these agreements frequently sucks up valuable time and energy.  Think about how much of your day (and your inbox) is devoted to this single aspect of work life.

We sit through meetings or conference calls of which only 10 percent of the time is productive. More often than not, these agreements are made through email which is far from perfect. Noted tech blogger Robert Scoble suggested last October that the number of emails required to get something done is equal to the number of people involved squared, i.e. eight people results in 64 emails. Sounds about right to me.

I’ve found in my career that getting decisions made is critical to being successful. Running an effective meeting is one skill, but most decisions get made on email. It’s a fact of life. The problem is that email lacks transparency and accountability. Additionally, maintaining any sort of record is hard to do because it comes in the form of a long email string stuck inside of an inbox folder which makes it tough to track and reference.

Even worse is that the lack of immediacy of email lets personalities and politics sneak into the process which is like sand in an engine and adds unnecessary friction. In my jobs, I’d find myself poring over every detail in an email proposal and wasting time. Then I’d send it out and have to try and herd a group of people toward “yes.” The worst part came after some time had passed and then we’d have to do that whole process over again because no one recalled the prior agreement.

From my experience, I’ve developed some ideas that will help you get decisions made faster, with less internal friction, and that will stick. Here are my 7 Tips:

  1. One Decision at a Time. Do not lump several decisions into one. Break them apart and isolate them so that the team can address them individually. This will narrow the focus of any objections raised so that the discussion is manageable and can be concluded quickly.
  2. Be Transparent. Hold discussions in the open, either in person or virtually. Successful organizations put decisions in the sunlight. Closed-door agreements can fuel speculation and inhibits the group’s ability to buy-in to the agreed upon direction.
  3. Give the Facts. Be proactive about gathering the required information in advance. Data-driven decisions go smoothly and avoid injecting emotion which will muddle the process. People need data, whether it’s research, budgets, timelines. Provide so they don’t have to come back and request it later.
  4. Minimize Participants. Include people on the decision that need to be there. If others have an interest, you can copy them but don’t invite them. Ask yourself if a person’s objection would stop the project. If not, then don’t include them.
  5. Subtract Words. Use the fewest words necessary to convey the proposal. Your team will absorb the scope, but extraneous details will dilute the message and might distract from your main objective.
  6. Be Clear What “Yes” Means. It sounds obvious, but when creating a proposal, create a proposal. Request in a crisp way and use actionable language. This is a common mistake. Add focus and formality as needed in the Subject line and in the message itself. Don’t say “let me know what you think” when you mean “do you approve this project.”
  7. Record the Decision. Seems simple but is hard to do, especially in email. There is a reason boards of directors keep minutes. People will take the decision seriously and will abide by it if they know it is saved in a place that is public. Think about a document or folder on an intranet or on the web where the agreement is recorded. Even if it is not referenced, the simple fact of know it exists will create peer pressure and accountability that is powerful.

By taking these steps, it is remarkable the productivity gains that you will experience personally, but also organizationally. Creating a system for getting decisions made and then recording them reduces stress and creates a level of trust that propels teams to greatness.

Monica Enand has worked for more than 16 years in large corporations such as Intel and IBM as well as startups. She focuses on the issue as a speaker and has created an online decision management system called Zapproved (www.zapproved.com) to help today’s worker overcome this challenge.



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