Making Decisions

How do managers at your facility make decisions? Are decisions made independently, or do managers work together as a team to determine the facility’s ultimate direction?According to Garvin and Roberto, authors of the article “What You Don’t Know About Making Decisions,”1 not all decision-making processes are equally effective. The “classic view of decision making has a pronouncement popping out of a leader’s head, based on experience, gut, research or all three,” they say. But to produce decisions of higher quality, leaders need to change their organization’s decision-making processes from one of advocacy to one of inquiry.

Inquiry, Garvin and Roberto explain, is an open process designed to generate multiple alternatives, foster the exchange of ideas and produce a well-tested solution. Unfortunately, inquiry is tough for most groups to achieve, and decision making tends to default to the mode of advocacy. When a group takes a position of advocacy, participants with special interests advocate for particular positions, which makes it nearly impossible for them to remain objective and to listen to opposing arguments. “By contrast,” Garvin and Roberto explain, “an inquiry-focused group carefully considers a variety of options and works together to discover the best solution.”

To achieve a process characterized by inquiry, rather than advocacy, careful attention must be paid to the three “C”s of effective decision making: conflict, consideration and closure.

Conflict. “Critical thinking and rigorous debate invariably lead to conflict,” say Garvin and Roberto. The challenge is to increase cognitive conflict — which involves disagreements over ideas, assumptions and differing views on the best way to proceed — while minimizing affective conflict — which is emotional and involves personal friction, rivalries and clashing personalities. Techniques to achieving cognitive conflict include establishing norms that make vigorous debate the rule, rather than the exception (such as asking tough questions or grilling those involved about what they think of the proposal on the table), structuring the conversation so that the process fosters debate (perhaps dividing people into groups with different, or competing, responsibilities), shifting individuals out of their vested positions, and asking participants locked in a debate to revisit key facts and assumptions to gather more information.

Consideration. Once the decision has been made, not everyone’s views will have prevailed. So, say Garvin and Roberto,”the people participating in the process must believe that their views were considered, and that they had a genuine opportunity to influence the final decision.” Don’t confuse consideration with , they warn. Voice means everyone has had a chance to express their views. Consideration is the people’s belief that their views have been heard and carefully considered prior to reaching an ultimate decision.

Closure. Knowing when to end deliberations is tricky, say Garvin and Roberto. If a decision is made too early, it is typically a result of “groupthink,” which results in the group readily accepting the first plausible option. “The danger of groupthink,” they say, “is not only that it suppresses the full range of options, but also that unstated objections will come to the surface at some critical moment — usually at a time when aligned, cooperative action is essential to implementation.”

Conversely, if a decision is made too late, it is typically a result of gridlock due to people’s willingness to bend over backward to ensure evenhanded participation.

At this point, say Garvin and Robert, “it’s the leader’s job to ‘call the question.’”

In this issue, we explore the issue of open discussion in Guy Brown’s article “Truth Serum: Transparency in Your Club”. And in Tim Lightfoot’s article “Advisory Boards: The Hidden Advantage”, we look at the benefits of such boards to provide your facility with input from those who may present ideas and options that you and your managers may not have considered. Inquiry is just one more tool to add to your management portfolio to help your facility be the best it can be.

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