How to make faster decisions

We’ve written before about decisiveness, the skill of being able to make decisions quickly, particularly in an environment of uncertainty and obviously incomplete information. Recognizing that not only will you never have access to complete information that is also completely reliable is just one piece of the puzzle. You also have to recognize that delaying your decision has a cost, even if you have not included that cost in your analysis of the options.

This article by the authors of “Made to Stick” describes some of the research about decision paralysis, or analysis paralysis as they term it. Briefly put, having more options from which to choose can paradoxically lead to different (and often worse) decisions than those made when fewer options are available.

The authors attribute this effect to the desire to accommodate a large number of interests or goals and thereby resulting in a sub-optimal result when more interests are introduced. Their resolution is one that they explore more deeply in the book, namely the analogous military term “commander’s intent.”

Commander’s intent
a clear, concise statement of what the force must do with respect to the enemy and the terrain and to the desired end state.

The purpose of stating the commander’s intent is to provide broad direction and guidance for subordinates to exercise their initiative when the reality no longer matches the plan. This concept is described in “Made to Stick” by referring to companies that have a short, crisp mission statement, such as SouthWest’s “we are THE low-cost airline” or FedEx’s “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

What these statements do is give everyone in an organization a way to connect what they do with what is good for the company. The key element in using these intent statements rather than a blase mission statement about “providing value to the extended enterprise through improved technology” is that the brevity of the commander’s intent, as a natural byproduct, helps eliminate the decision paralysis because one goal is placed above all others. After all, how likely is it that each corporate “value” or “goal” or “belief” is equally important to all the others. Ties have to be broken, and that’s leadership job. The commander’s intent is a way for leaders to break those ties for subordinates so that necessary decisions can get made promptly at every level of an organization.

The commander’s intent is one way for leaders to implement intentions-based guidance (IBG) in their organizations, even though it’s not tied to specific business requirements in the examples above. In our work for clients, we’ve helped them turn this concept into a tactical tool and apply it across functional areas, from the shipping department to IT to marketing to outside sales. Using ThoughtStorm‘s data-driven analysis (DDA), firms can narrow down the range of options to a more manageable number, assisting leaders and managers with their decisions, which can then be implemented using IBG as the method of actually delegating authority, responsibility, and accountability to the team.