When faced with a challenge, we often fall into the classic decision-making pitfall of asking too narrow of a question. This drives us to “this or that”, “yes or no” and other binary options. This one-zero logic can lead to bad decisions. For example, if I’m hungry after dinner, I could ask myself whether to have cake or ice-cream for dessert. A better question is “how might I satisfy or prevent after-dinner-hunger?” That question opens up a world of options, from considering other dessert types, to changing eating times, to eating a bigger dinner, etc.
Fall in love with the problem, before you settle on either-or solutions. A few simple ways of doing this are:
Once you settle on a broad question, generate good options using these steps:
And finally, don’t keep on collecting data in the hopes that the answer will magically appear. In this world of uncertainty and ambiguity, there’s often more than one right answer. Colin Powell advises to shoot for between 40 and 70% of the info, and Jeff Bezos uses a “70% of the info” rule before making a decision. Uncertainty is to be expected and something to manage. We’ll talk about that in the next blog post.
When I first saw this picture, I was 100% certain it was an old woman in profile, with protruding chin and nose.
And that’s what the drawing is. But, as I later came to find out, it’s also a picture of a young woman, turned away, sporting a necklace. Even as it was explained to me, how the lines intersected to form neck, nose, eyelash, I still could not see the young woman in the picture.
We all see with our own frames. Our frames come from our unique experiences, values, and cultures. These are mental constructs we use to simplify complexity. Frames filter what we see and appear to represent a complete reality, but in fact do not. And once you see something a certain way, it can be exceedingly difficult to see it any other way.
Conflating our frames with “the truth” creates problems in decision-making. For example, we make a snap judgment about something and then gather and interpret evidence to support that view, a phenomenon called “confirmation bias”. Or we define a challenge too narrowly, from our singular perspectives, and end up solving the wrong problem, overlooking potential solutions, and jumping to the wrong conclusions.
Another blind spot in decision-making is overconfidence. Good decision-making requires knowing the limits of our knowledge. We need to understand what we know, what others might know to fill our gaps, and what no one knows. This means admitting the level of uncertainty we’re dealing with and preparing to be wrong with the decisions we make.
We also tend to over-look “noise”, or the variability that results when we make value judgements. For example, you can consult several different doctors on the same issue and get a different opinion from each of them. Relying on just a few loud opinions is noisy. You’ll make better decisions if you crowd-source and use either consensus or the average “robust” opinion to decide. See here for more information on the power of group decisions.
And finally, we can be high jacked by emotion which clouds our judgment. This leads some of us to shoot from hip, and the rest of us to undertake analysis paralysis.
Luckily, there are many proven tactics you can employ to manage these blind spots. Want to learn more about high quality decision-making? Join ISSP’s leadership training webinar on decision-making, July 23rd, 1 PM EST.
We sustainability and social impact professionals must lead in the face of constant change, complexity, and ambiguity. Especially now in the age of COVID, uncertainty has become our norm. Making good decisions that we can be confident in can be quite challenging these days!
One of the difficulties I’ve been hearing from my coaching clients is their “decision fatigue”. They feel so overwhelmed and have so much on their plate, they don’t have the mental space to make good decisions. This causes some of them to shoot from the hip and decide on impulse. It causes others to sit on a decision forever, thinking if they keep gathering information, the right answer will reveal itself. Neither option is optimal for getting good results
Cutting back the amount of decisions you need to make is a great way forward. By asking your yourself these three questions, you can take the steps needed to clear the mental space needed to make high quality decisions:
3. Is it something I must decide on my own, or can we decide as a group? Group decisions take more time, but generally lead to better framing of the challenge, more creative options, and higher quality assessments. Group decisions also generate buy-in. If you’re dealing with a complex, adaptive challenge, ask the team (or form a group) to help you.
Want to learn more about high quality decision-making? Join ISSP’s leadership training webinar on decision-making, July 23rd, 1 PM EST.
Last week, at the NAEM Women’s Leadership Roundtable, I had the honor of leading a group coaching
session on “Influencing Without Formal Authority”, framing it around the book Influencer (Grenny et al).
The participants, representing a variety of corporate environmental functions and leadership levels
within their companies, noted similar challenges when it came to influence and came up with some
Challenge 1: How can we get better results in a matrix bureaucracy?
Solution Option: Have that elevator pitch ready at any moment. In a matrix organization, you
never know who might help you get what you want. You need as many allies as you can get. If
you don’t know how to put together that pitch, consider joining Toastmasters.
Challenge 2: How can we get resistant co-workers to collaborate more while managing our own
emotions when we feel frustrated or disrespected by them?
Solution Option: Meet with them one-on-one, in person if possible, to develop more of a
relationship and more empathy for what they need and want. If you know this person can
trigger you, prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time, and even role play it with a friend.
If they’ve just upset you, take time to cool off before responding. Sit a good long while on that
angry email response before sending it!
Challenge 3: How can we get more buy-in for our change initiatives?
Solution Option: Find an influential advocate to champion your cause. Often this will be
someone on the executive leadership team. (John Kotter, in Leading Change, refers to this as
“creating the powerful guiding coalition.”) In some instances, the advocate you need may not
necessarily be in a formal leadership role. She or he is the person your colleagues go to for
advice, the one in the team meetings that gets asked for their opinion, who can sway a debate
with the power of their personal influence and persuasion skills. It pays to build good
relationships with the informal opinion leaders in your organization.
These were some of the many solutions generated in our coaching session. Sustainability, CSR, EHS, and
social impact professionals know the impact that their ability to influence their colleagues and
leadership has on their results. What influence challenge are you facing?