Decision-Making at Warp Speed

By S. A. Schulz and Frank Wander

Cloud is all the rage. You can’t open an IT trade publication—or many others for that matter—without seeing an article or opinion piece about cloud technologies. The funny thing about clouds is that they look like they’re moving ever so slowly. In fact, in unison, they are moving at a deceptively fast pace. According to the Newton Department of Energy website, clouds move with the environmental winds—sometimes at speeds of 100 mph.

We can learn a thing or two from our cumulus friends because we have arrived at a true inflection point. “Corporate Infrastructure as a Service” (network, computing, storage, facilities and corporate systems like HRIS) means those aspects of business that are a competitive necessity (the things required to run the business, versus grow the business) will be available as a service. What were once considered barriers to entry for building a business, have now become an on-ramp. Consequently, companies with legacy infrastructures must transform themselves. And just like those clouds that move with the jet stream, companies need to move quickly with the changing winds. Organizational velocity has to increase, or companies will slowly fade into the vapor of the atmosphere as new and transformed competitors outcompete them.

This means corporations must get better at making quicker pivots, which means one’s decision speed is critical. To achieve faster decision-making, companies must understand what behaviors induce speed, and which ones slow it down. They must have a formal process to drive behavioral change and track progress But speed absent quality is certain disaster. Anyone can make quick decisions without much thought. Creating an environment where thoughtful decisions are made is a key consideration that must be woven into the behavioral model.

Five common beliefs may be slowing down your company’s decision-making ability:

1.    A decision is a one-step process. To reach the desired outcome, many decisions actually require two decisions: one where the decision owner takes a stand and declares something; the other where the person they depend upon decides to take action. This is the stage where it gets tricky. If the person didn’t feel he or she had input into how work gets done, they’re apt to resist it. And then the execution of that decision falls apart. This is why so many change efforts fail, because two decisions are required, and many participants see it as just one.

2.    A trusted relationship is a “nice to have.” Getting two or more people to make a decision requires an open, honest discussion, where each party sincerely engages the other or others. This process can happen quickly, and even informally, if the parties have a strong relationship. When trust exists, the two parties engage in a sincere dialogue and get aligned, even if the parties agree to disagree. But without healthy relationships, it is much tougher for parties to reach a mutually agreeable decision because trust has not been earned. Communication is, therefore, more guarded, as the two parties try to discern if a hidden agenda exists. Decision-making speed is, therefore, an outcome of a healthy organization, and the velocity at which your organization moves is a direct reflection of your culture and the quality of the relationships it has fostered.

3.    Elephants make things more difficult. Input is important to push decisions toward execution. Sometimes this input is easy to give and to receive—like when it’s exactly in line with your way of thinking. But sometimes it’s not. In these situations, we call this “the elephant in the room” because it’s uncomfortable. Like an elephant, it’s big, scary and intimidating, which causes most people to remain silent. Why is acknowledging the elephant in the room so important to decision making? Because without it being acknowledged and discussed, you don’t properly weigh the risks and benefits of moving forward. No one person sees everything, so the collective viewpoint, whether divergent or in synch, is imperative to assure the decision is well thought out.

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