Blog Post

Challenge Your Assumptions: Three Steps to Better Decision-Making

Carol Anderson

Founder, Anderson Performance Partners

Assumptions are often an inevitable part of quick decision making, but accepting assumptions as fact can be harmful to your business and employees.

I learned this the hard way years ago when I was part of a performance management platform implementation at LandAmerica Financial Group. The platform was "state-of-the-art," and we were excited to have access to data about performance, given that up until that point, we had no quantifiable way to measure it. But midway through implementation we realized that more than half of the executives who would have to use the program lacked the computer skills required for the new technology.

In this case, we had assumed everyone had the same level of IT experience as the HR department—and didn't think too much about other potential users. Our assumptions led to a swift but ultimately bad decision that damaged our internal reputation and frustrated users. In order to prevent this from happening in the future, I came up with a quick checklist to ensure we wouldn't make the same mistake again.

Follow these three steps and leave your assumptions behind in favor of a more strategic decision-making process—one that will be particularly useful for implementing new software.

1) Organize the Decision-Making Process

One way to get more strategic about decision-making is to use organizational tools that guide the thinking process. These tools help sort, synthesize and analyze relevant data. And there are hundreds available, ranging from simple brainstorming technologies to complex ones. Tools that automate the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) approach to decision-making, for example, help establish a disciplined, checklist-driven process for taking actions.

Process-oriented software can help streamline tough organizational problems, such as implementing a new technology. A good decision making tool will help you identify all key stakeholders, involve them in the process and give them the opportunity to weigh in, which will make decision-making more thorough and fact-based, rather than assumption-based.

2) Ask Yourself Tough Questions

Proactively anticipating the challenges that will arise as a result of any decision you make can go a long way in preventing potential pitfalls. Here are three basic questions that you should always ask before making decisions that involve others.

  • Does the company have adequate resources? Most implementations require parallel processes—keeping the old process going, while testing a new one. But if the employees tasked with maintaining both the new and the old are already overloaded, they won't be credible testers. To determine if you have the right resources, you need empirical data including the volume of work being added, the volume of work being phased out, and the bandwidth of existing staff.
  • Do workers have the required skills and knowledge? A collective discussion that compares the current process with the new process can raise knowledge requirements that you may not be considering.
  • Is this the right time? If your resources will be insufficient, or if you determine there is re-skilling necessary, you must challenge your timeline. If the timing is cast in concrete, at least you'll be aware of potential deficiencies going in, and can address them.

3) Call on Colleagues to Speak Up

Challenging colleagues to voice their concerns about upcoming decisions and changes offers a depth of review. This is critical because the more input you gather before, during and after a new implementation, the more ownership people will feel for the end product. And a greater sense of ownership means workers are more likely to get on board with a decision that has been made, and do what it takes to make it work.

Failing to solicit input from the entire team that'll be impacted by a decision too often results in hiccups during implementation—such as people not having the skills required to use the technology—which in turn can lead to lack of adoption.

Bringing all stakeholders into a decision and listening carefully to their input can help lead to better decision-making overall. One lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career is that there are buried landmines of assumptions in every decision, and the more people that look at their decisions, the greater their chance of finding these landmines before its too late.

Photo: Creative Commons

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