The Art and Skill of Decision Making – Do You Lead a Team of Rocking Horses?

July 10, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

“People with high levels of personal mastery cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, or head and heart, any more than they would chose to walk on one leg or see with one eye.” – Peter Senge

Good meetings = good decisions, time well spent, and clear next steps. Bad meetings = cynicism, apathy, a waste of valuable time and little to no action. Here’s a scenario for you: Think about the last time your leadership team got together. Let’s say you were in the conference room for 2 hours with 8 staff in attendance, 2 of which were remote. How would you answer this question from one of your direct reports: “So what did you guys decide in the meeting, are we going to move forward with the project? Are we going to get the resources we asked for from Quality Assurance?” Sadly enough, the answer is often, “Well, we’re still working on it. No decisions were made. We’ll get together next week.” Not a good answer for the front line – the folks that really do want to succeed – if management would just make a decision.

Meetings are the place where most decisions for companies are made. Therefore it’s easy to understand the more effective a meeting is, the higher the quality of decisions that result. Here are some of my recommendations for facilitating meetings that will result in better, conclusive decisions:

– Clearly describe what is at stake and the purpose of the meeting – at every meeting

– Put the important items at the top of the agenda

– Be a facilitator- not a controller

– Recognize the value of dialogue

– Assign responsibilities

– Become diligent in defining and initiating cascading communications

The average cost of a meeting, such as the one described above, is conservatively $1,500 not including lost opportunity costs. How many meetings do you regularly attend? What is the cost around the table? Add it up. You might be surprised. You should reduce your costs a bit for the remote individuals that checked out of the meeting and were working on other things, though they certainly were not contributing to your agenda.

Here’s another meeting story for you. Earlier this year I met with a client who described their senior leadership team meetings as a herd of rocking horses. As I was not quite sure what she meant, I asked for clarification. She stated, “You know, lots of movement, but not really getting anywhere.” What a great visual! I could picture instantly the exact scene she was describing: lots of talking, not so much listening and definitely no movement forward.

As a child, rocking horses were fun, but at some point you wanted to get on a real horse and go somewhere. Team meetings that seem to be stuck in the same pattern and going nowhere should be treated the same way. Does it feel like the team is struggling to make decisions? Engage with trust and dialogue and remember that 75% of a great meeting is about active listening. Good meetings= good decisions, time well spent, and clear next steps.

During your next meeting, take a look around the room, remembering to include those virtual members in your scan. Are you all sitting on rocking horses? My suggestion: Stop. Get off that horse and decide to get on a horse that moves forward – it’s a much better ride.

Decision making can be the force that drives these meetings, or in the case above, shifts you to that forward moving horse. Seasoned decision makers know that their intuition, based on years of experience traveling both smooth and rocky roads, is an important resource. These leaders also understand that new information, facts, and realities of their world must also be considered. To rely on one over the other is foolhardy, heightening the probability of unintended consequences. Organizations that thrive have very strong decision making skills. They are thoughtful, quick, smart and they adjust efficiently.

I would like to offer one last example of the difference between good companies, which are viewed by their internal and external constituencies as constantly changing direction, and those that are considered to be nimble, resilient and resourceful. These latter companies have spent the time and energy communicating their vision with beautiful, eloquent clarity, and they do the same with their decisions. These companies provide transparency. “This is the world as we see it. These are the facts as we understand them. We have made the following decision in the best interest of our company and in concert with our vision and values. If our world and the facts change, we will revisit our decision.” Ah, proactive, setting the stage, providing a frame from which adjustment can, should and will be made. I appreciate this approach. I am not appreciative of the ‘flavor of the month’ management. There is just too much at stake.

Here are a few questions for all of us to ponder. The last time we communicated important decisions to our stakeholders, did we:

– Articulate the information we used in making the decision

– Clearly communicate how the decisions support the vision and direction of the company

– And, most importantly, what variables would cause us to re-evaluate our decisions and shift direction

Help yourself get off that rocking horse and through clear, concise decisions propel you and your company forward. Here’s wishing you great meetings and excellent decisions,


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Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities–executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood. She has held the role of Senior Vice President, Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company, midsize companies and software start-ups. Much of her experience has been in the software, financial and insurance industries, representing significant merger, acquisition and divestiture activities.In addition, Julia is certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Step I and II, the OPTM360 and the Denison Organizational Cultural Assessment.

Throughout her professional career, Julia has acted as an internal consultant to executive leadership teams, managers and emerging leaders as they strive to build successful companies, bringing out the very best in all staff.

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