Jane was a group manager over a team of six buyers for a large department store chain. Her team specialized in buying house-wares, including linens, sheets, towels and small appliances. Her team met every week to discuss advertised specials for upcoming weeks and any supplier issues that the team needed to be aware of. There was one linens supplier, Patty’s Linens, that has had some difficulty with product quality and the department store was experiencing higher-than-normal returns on the product. Two weeks earlier, the supplier submitted a plan for how they were going to improve the quality of their product. The department store decided to keep the supplier on for three more months to evaluate their plan and give the supplier an opportunity to resolve the quality issues. With this as backdrop, we eavesdrop on Jane’s current team meeting:
Jane: Ok, for the next agenda item, Patty’s Linens submitted their improvement plan two weeks ago and they appear to be performing to plan.
Kasie: I thought we decided to terminate Patty’s Linens in favor of Briana’s Softgoods?
Jane: No, we decided to keep them on for three more months to give them time to rectify their problems.
Jeffy: I think we should cut them loose and give Briana’s Softgoods a try.
Kelly: I just had lunch with a sales rep from Trevor’s Towels. How about we try them instead?
Jane: Guys, we already made this decision and communicated to Patty’s Linens that we were going to keep them on while they worked out their problems.
Bobby: Well, I know that I agreed at the time, but now I’m not so sure.
Jane: (muttering under her breath) only 3,642 days until retirement….
Decision making is one of the most crucial activities that managers perform in their jobs. Their decisions impact company profitability, the lives of their employees, and the viability of the product or service they offer. Making good, thoughtful decisions is a difficult but necessary part of the job. Decision making during meetings is exponentially more complex because you are building consensus as part of the decision making process. Those that can facilitate team decision making effectively are diamonds in the rough in any company.
Where team decision making runs amok is when decisions don’t stick and they continue to get raised and questioned after a decision has already been made. Now, I’m not advocating a “stick your head in the sand” approach once a decision is made, but you need to give your decision some time to determine if it was the right decision. Continual about-faces will cause you to just mark time in your business instead of moving forward. More importantly, though, is the impact on your credibility. Each time you un-decide a previously made decision, you create doubt in the minds of those you are leading because they will follow you in a zig-zag pattern as opposed to a straight line and see you as wasting time. Chronic indecision-making will ultimately cause the team to not follow you at all until they are sure you are not going to change your mind again.
I’ve used several techniques to help make sure decisions stick, as follows:
Keep a decision log - When developing a decision log, keep track of the following pieces of information: what needs to be decided, when it needs to be decided by, what the decision alternatives are, who owns driving the decision, what the actual decision is, when it was actually decided, and when the decision will be reviewed to ensure the decision made was the best decision. Now, this may sound like a lot of administrivia, but recording each decision is important in ensuring that decisions don’t get dropped and that the team is reminded of what was actually decided. The little bit of time you spend documenting the decision will pale in comparison to the wasted time and effort of re-discussing decisions already made.
Allow for vetting of alternatives - The primary purpose of driving decisions in meetings is to make sure that the appropriate stakeholders have a chance to provide their input and perspective on the alternatives prior to a decision being made. The meeting owner needs to have the patience and discipline to allow for the meeting attendees to vet each alternative, hear opposing viewpoints, and come to some kind of consensus on the decision. This requires someone who is very in-tune to what is happening in the meeting, can keep things moving, and can “close the deal” to get the group to agree to a decision. I’ve never been able to come up with a magic formula for how long this can take; but someone clearly needs to facilitate the discussion and move the meeting attendees to decision.
Set a “let’s evaluate the decision” milestone date - Once the decision is made, it’s a good idea to set some date in the future at which the group evaluates the decision and assesses whether the decision made was the right decision. Doing this is important for two reasons: it provides a checkpoint to make sure that the decision made was a good decision, and also sets an expectation with the group that the decision will be evaluated at a future date and to not open the can of worms again until that point.
Make decisions as a team, log your decisions, vet the alternatives, and evaluate the decision to make sure it was the right decision. Do this and you’ll better ensure that the best decisions are made once and not replayed like a bad sitcom.
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