Who should you invite to your decision? I’m glad you asked!
Most people invite the same old group to all their decisions. The whole department, the same old management team, the entire marketing team, etc. Standing meetings with default attendees too often determine who is “invited.”
The result is wasted time by those with little to contribute, poor decisions if the group is uninformed or ill-equipped to make the decision, and anger from those who thought they should have been included.
In order to invite wisely, there are two main considerations: making a good decision and ensuring the decision is accepted.
Ensuring the Quality of Your Decision
To ensure a good decision, you need people with the right knowledge, expertise, and authority. If you look at the three steps of decision-making separately, selecting the right people becomes much simpler. Furthermore, you will realize that you may need different people for different steps in the process:
Step 1. Whose input do you need to establish the objectives and decision criteria? They need to be able to answer questions like:
• What are we trying to accomplish?
• What are the most important considerations or priorities that should govern this decision?
• What limitations must be kept in mind (timing, budget, scope, interdependencies)?
You can’t make a good decision without answers to these questions. And while many people may be able to make valuable contributions to this discussion, the ultimate authority for establishing the final decision criteria may not rest with a group. Good input and clear expectations and roles are important if you are to establish solid, reliable objectives and decision criteria.
Step 2. Whose input do you need to identify alternatives?
There are almost always more alternatives than meets the eye. A little creativity by those with the right expertise can work wonders in coming up with new approaches. If you invite the same old group, you are less likely to hear fresh ideas. Furthermore, it should be pretty obvious that in many, many circumstances, the people setting the objectives and decisions criteria are not the best choice for generating alternatives. Picture a large technical decision, if this isn’t obvious. Upper management will have to set or approve the objectives and main decision criteria, but they aren’t in a position to propose alternatives. Even in much smaller decisions this is often true.
Step 3. Whose input do you need to evaluate the alternatives against the objectives and decision criteria? Who can assess the risks associated with what look like the best alternative(s)?
Someone capable of establishing objectives or brainstorming alternatives may not have the skill or knowledge to make the selection. And the best evaluators may not have the knowledge or perspective to set the objectives or the creativity to generate alternatives.
Now before you make every decision an onerous, mega-meeting three-step process, be sure to consider the significance of the decision. Important decisions deserve the resources. Inconsequential decisions need to be made as quickly as possible and involve as few people as possible, assuming they deserve to be made at all. Nonetheless, the three-step process itself works well whether you make a decision alone, solicit input independently from others who have knowledge you lack, or schedule three separate meetings with different people invited to each. If you get the right input on each step (in proportion to the importance of the decision), you can ensure a quality decision.
Ensuring Acceptance of Your Decision
People care most about decisions that affect their work and themselves personally. And they generally accept decisions when they believe the decision-process is fair and informed. Even bad decision are readily accepted and defended when people believe the process was fair and informed. On the flip side, good decisions can cause riots when the process is perceived as unfair. Thus, if you want acceptance, strive for a fair and informed process:
• Follow the decision-making steps described above.
• Be open about where you are in the process and who is or will be involved in each step.
• Be open to suggestions as to who should participate to ensure those most affected by the decision believe that their interests are represented.
• Be transparent about the outcomes of each of the three steps.
Since an informed decision is part and parcel of ensuring a quality decision, the “extra” time and effort required to ensure acceptance, need not be extensive. However, the broader and greater the impact of a decision, the more care you must take. Regardless of the magnitude of the decision, you can make substantial changes with good speed and minimal discord if you follow these simple guidelines.