Reflections on decision tracking

In recent posts I wrote about the possibility of changing how an organization makes decisions by changing how I make decisions and the impact of self-observation. For the past three weeks I have been tracking decision making behavior of both myself and other leaders, because I thought it would be good to get some data on the current state before designing an experiment to test. Today I want to share what I learned from this tracking exercise. This is not a random sample of decision making behavior in my organization – it is just what I observed over a 3 week period. First of all, it turns out that while my job title is “Director,” I don’t make a lot of decisions. And neither do a lot of the other leaders I spend time with in meetings. Also, I noticed that a lot of the time when decisions are being made, it is often unclear what the decision is, or who is making it.  When decisions were being made, about half the time the decision maker spent time understanding the current situation – one point in a decision process where data could help inform understanding and decision making. But rarely was there any quantitative data available – most of the time the data were the experiences of the people in the room. This is not necessarily bad data, it is just a limited kind of information. Finally, only about half of the situations when a leader did take time to understand the current state, they did root cause analysis to understand the underlying problem – another point in a decision process where data could help inform understanding. Some reflections I have after looking at the patterns over the past couple of weeks:

  • Leaders often refer to themselves as decision makers – but the time they spend actually engaged in a decision making process seems rather limited.  And maybe that is just fine, because…
  • In Lean management and the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, both frameworks that focus on organizational learning, the role of the leader is more of coach and facilitator, with shared authority.  The most important decision they make is about the direction for the future state, and most decisions can and should be made at the front line.
  • Slowing down to get more clear about what actual decision needs to be made resulted for me in an opportunity to also get more clear about who should actually make the decision and be intentional about that, and to get more clear about who should give input and what data would be useful to have to inform the decision process.
  • We often don’t make use of data we have, I think because we are moving too fast.  This might be an example of slowing down to go faster – because if we make a decision that is not informed by data, then we are less likely to address the root cause, and more likely to have to revisit the decision at a later time.

I found this exercise eye opening. Which is exactly why I find data to be so valuable. Collecting actual data on the decision process in my day-to-day work gave me a new perspective on the current situation, outside of my own opinion and stories about it. My next step is to run an experiment, based on the reflections above, in order to see if I can change the system by first changing my own process. My hypothesis is that if I slow down long enough to clarify what decision needs to be made, who the appropriate person is to decide, and whether there is data available that is beyond personal experience, more decisions will be informed by data. And hopefully those decisions will be better, meaning more likely to address root cause or lead to learning. I expect to be met with some resistance, both from within myself and from others, if it is true that this is a system-level pattern. I will let you know how it goes.

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4 Responses to Reflections on decision tracking

  1. Karl Hoover says:

    Eleanor, Excellent post – I look forward to reading what you learn from your hypothesis of “slowing down long enough…”. – Karl

  2. Betsy Bell says:

    I find it fascinating to read about decision making and data in the non-profit world. In business, if the numbers (results) are not good or below expectation, the quickest way to discover what went wrong is to look at the sales activities. A good business person keeps detailed records of prospecting actions, presentation actions and closing. If the prospecting isn’t yielding potential buyers, you can see that immediately and change it up. If the presentations are not closing the sale, work on different presentations. Sales growth depends on close attention to these data every month. Of course this is more nuanced in large multinational businesses, but the books I’ve read about their success indicate vigilante observation and speedy intenvention. Schultz taking over Starbucks again is a case in point.

  3. Leslie Lorenz says:

    I think this is great! I think it is just as hard from the bottom up to know the key decision makers as it is from the top down! I wonder your reflections holding leaders to the decisions they make!

    • Eleanor Bell says:

      Leslie, thanks for the comment. This experiment has increased my level of awareness so greatly about how unclear most decision processes are. I hope it can also help change that. -Eleanor

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