Pursue What Matters
Episode 168: 7 Steps to Better Decisions
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
We all want to make better decisions, and none of us have a crystal ball. But there are things that good decision makers do consistently that result in better decisions over time. So join me to learn what those things are.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:20
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive and love and work. So over the past three weeks, we’ve been talking about the quality of your decisions, I hope you feel confidence in your decision making. We’ve talked about some common mistakes. We’ve talked about why decision making is so challenging. And we’ve talked about the unique responsibility of leaders to make decisions and lead teams and organizations to greater success. So last week, we talked about three common mistakes that undermine our decisions. And we talked about how to avoid those mistakes. And that really sets us up for today, which I want to give you a step by step process for decision making.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:26
Now this isn’t fool proof, this does not give you the stamp of approval that this will be faulted from, you know, angels singing from heaven, a perfect decision. But I want you to think about this as decision making hygiene. And in fact, in the research, that’s the term that they use. So you maybe you’ve heard that term, maybe you haven’t. But just like you have oral hygiene, right? Like, hopefully, you floss, you brush your teeth, you stay away from loads of sugary foods, and you visit your dentist regularly, right? Like all of these steps are designed designed to maintain oral health. So you have good teeth, that can serve you throughout your life. So they’re consistent practices that over time, can make a very big difference in your dental health. Right. And boy, oh boy, I have run across some folks who, you know, have had concerns with dental health for various reasons. And it’s really miserable, right? Not only do they spend a lot of time and money sitting in a dentist’s chair, but there’s a lot of pain. Eating can be uncomfortable drinking can be uncomfortable. And so, you know, just like oral hygiene, right, these small consistent practices taken over time can really make a big difference. In your dental health. We also think about this with sleep hygiene, right. So hopefully, you’ve heard that term. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ve definitely heard it from me, because I’m a big fan of sleep hygiene. But right we these are practices that we engage in, in evening to really downshift our brain and our body in preparation for sleep. So some of the ways we do this is we get rid of devices and lower stimulation. So we don’t watch TV right before that we shouldn’t be looking at screens right before bed, we want to lower physical activity to signal the body, it’s time to slow down. So maybe we turn out, we turn down the light, we you know, read a book that’s not too intense. And we have a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine, right? So washing your face, brushing your teeth, showering, whatever the case may be. These practices can help you fall asleep faster, avoid fractured, sleep, and wake up refreshed and ready to go. And so these are some steps, some consistent practices that if done, really facilitate better sleep, which of course is a big predictor of health and well being. And so today, we’re going to talk about a decision decision making hygiene.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:50
So giving you some consistent practices, some steps that you can apply to your decisions that can really help you and your teams make better decisions. And so every week, my goal with the podcast is to help you pursue what matters. By strengthening your confidence to lead. I do that in one of three ways. So first leading with clarity, what matters and why. So that really connects us to purpose. Second, leading with curiosity. It’s all about cultivating self awareness, self reflection, for better self leadership. And then three is leading and building a community. And so So today what I would say right like this, this process really helps in all three areas. But I’m going to pin that primarily on leading and building a community because this process is really helpful for teams. Maybe what you find is you do pretty well making decisions on your own. But when it comes to Team decisions or project decisions, right, like you need to collaborate you need to get stakeholders on board. And so these seven steps can be in credibly helpful for teams, of course, they’re really helpful for you, in your personal life and other decisions that you might need to make.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:09
And so let’s jump right in and look at seven steps to better decisions. Okay, so step one, you need to identify the decision to be made. So what is the decision to be made? And the second question, why must it be made? So is there an internal impetus for that? Or is there an external impetus to that now, there might be there, there might be more than one, but we just we want to understand what the decision is, and why it needs to be made. Because sometimes we kind of push ourselves to a decision without really looking at, do I need to make this decision? And why why do I need to make this decision? And so I think Einstein really got it right. He got a lot of things right. When he said, if he had only 60 minutes to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and five minutes solving it. So it is the same with decisions. We need clarity about the decision that is to be made, we need to understand what that decision is and why we need to make it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:13
So I’ve got four questions for you under step one to really pay attention to. So first, what is the decision that must be made? Second, why is it important to make the decision? Three who will be impacted by the decision? And four? How will the decision impact past present and future processes and activities? So these are really good questions for you. These are really good questions for your team to really wrap your hands around the decision to be made. And so that’s step one, identify the decision to be made.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:49
Next, let’s head to step two, establish strategic priorities. So you need to outline and review your strategic priorities, because really, these should become the guardrail for effective decision making, right? This is where purpose becomes so important. Where are you going? Why does it matter? What right like if everything is equally important, you will be making decisions all over the place, and you will be running your Team Rocket. And so these having clear strategic priorities really becomes a guardrail to say, this is our top priority as an organization. So we are not going to make this decision if it undermines our top priority, right? Or we’re going to make decisions that are in line with our top priorities. We’re going to make decisions that support emerging strategic priorities. But we have to have clarity about that. And when it comes to decision making, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. And so vision and mission should absolutely guide your decision making process, it helps you to jump ahead in the decision making process because you already know what really matters, you know where your anchors are or your guardrails are. So if your vision and mission do not inform decision making at all, it is time to clarify your vision and mission. Right? Do you have a clearly articulated vision and mission? If you don’t? It really, it just it makes for very inefficient teams, you might be doing a lot, but you might not, you know, like, are you actually moving forward on a meaningful path? And so, you know, when it comes to establishing strategic priorities, vision and mission often determine what will be done and what will not be done on it makes the case for why right. So it provides a clear rationale. So why would we do this? Why would we not do this? Those are important questions for you and for your team to answer. How does the decision impact strategic priorities? So is the decision aligned with our strategic priorities? Or does it undermine them that’s really important to pay attention to? And then the converse of that question is how is this decision impacted by strategic priorities? So perhaps you have a decision that if you make that, you know, it’s going to be cannibalized by your other strategic priorities or your other products and services, that’s not probably a great decision to make. And so you need to be able to have a large horizon view so that you can really anticipate and pay attention to the impact the decision will have and how the decision is impacted by your existing priorities. And so that’s number two, establish strategic priorities. And now, let’s head to step three, which is gather information. So you need to gather as much information as you can in order to make an informed decision. So I want you to consider key stakeholders, team members, clients and customers. errs, that may all be impacted by a decision.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:03
So seek feedback, seek perspective, seek knowledge, who can you consult with who has maybe had experience with something similar? I have found, sometimes it’s helpful to seek feedback from someone who’s not in my industry, but who understands business really well, because inevitably, and I think about some of my MBA friends, inevitably, they bring a really valuable perspective that I was maybe not aware of, you know, we can sometimes get tunnel vision in our own industry, and in our own organization, and so seek actively seeking feedback and perspective from folks who, who understand business, right, but might not be fully aware of your industry, right, it leads to really good conversations. So sometimes, what I find is I’m making a case for why I make a decision making a decision, and that helps them understand. And sometimes my, when I’m making my case, it doesn’t hold up. And they provide really valuable feedback that helps me to gather more information and to really think through the decision very, very intentionally. So we also need to be humble, and recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know. And you know, that’s totally circular and very accurate. And so we want to gather information so that we can have a better understanding of the factors at play.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:33
So that’s step three, gather information. And now let’s head on to step four, which is weigh alternatives and risk. So if you’ve listened to any of these podcasts on decision making, I’ve talked a lot about risk and uncertainty. And this idea that decision making is inherently vulnerable, because there’s always a certain degree of uncertainty and risk. And so you need to recognize that there will always be uncertainty and risk. And that doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad decision, it doesn’t mean that you can’t move forward with a good decision. It’s it is just a reality of decision making, there’s going to be uncertainty and risk. And it’s one of the factors that makes decision making challenging, because you can’t know the end from the beginning, right? None of us have that crystal ball. And so what we do need to do in this process when we’re weighing alternatives and risks is you need to learn to tolerate your risk relative to the unknowns relative to uncertainty. So plan for risk and have contingency plans in place to help you move forward while tolerating smart risk. So not too long ago, I did a whole series on tolerating risk. So if that can be helpful, I would recommend you back to those podcasts. I’ll link to the first one. So you can find it easily if you would like. You also need to challenge the sunk cost fallacy. I also did a podcast on this when we fall for the sunk cost fallacy, it leads to very poor decision making. So I will link to that as well in the show notes. You also need to consider all viable alternatives with steely eyed realism. Right? So this is where it is time to take off your rose colored glasses, and also put down your prophecies of doom and gloom. So we don’t we don’t need unrestrained optimism, or unrestrained pessimism, we need to steely eyed realism. So you need to consider the situation as objectively as possible, recognizing that you aren’t necessarily aiming for a perfectly logical decision. And so that might not make sense. But we want to be objective as we approach the decision making process. But we recognize that a perfectly logical decision is not necessarily the answer. Because you can have a decision that is perfectly logical on paper, that is absolutely the wrong decision. And so we need to trust our gut, we need to pay attention to our emotions we need to pay attention to, you know, I just have a feeling that this is going to be okay. Now we want to do our homework after that. Right and, and do what we can to make sure it’s going to be okay. So, you know, I just made a big decision for the business really impacts the future of the business. And, you know, I at first blush, right when I just look at it very objectively, you know, and if we think about the different perspectives you’re looking at it from So one was a financial view. It’s like, um, I don’t know that this is going to be the best decision, but as I continued to work with it, it was like you know what, I really think this is the right decision and I don’t feel easy about it like there is a lot of uncertainty about it. But what can help me to move forward? Because I just have this gut feeling? It’s going to be right. And as I talk to people, colleagues, folks within the industry, they’re like, Yes, this is good, this is good. But, you know, I still needed to do my homework, I still needed to crunch all the numbers and look at how can this be a good decision, right, like what needs to happen financially for this to be successful, what needs to happen as far as resources and team members to make this happen? And so I want to be really clear that we’re not aiming for a perfectly logical decision necessarily. Those aren’t, those aren’t always the best decisions, we need to bring in, you know, quality and quantity, quantitative and qualitative information. And so when it comes to emotions, when it comes to that gut sense, the recommendation is that you want to be informed by your emotions, but not ruled by them. Because if you’re ruled by your emotions, well, first of all, you might not make the decision because fear and anxiety is crippling you. Or you might be so excited pie in the sky, that you fail to assess and plan for risks appropriately. And so again, we need to look at it with steely eyed realism. And we want to approach the process as objectively as possible, while also recognizing that our intuition, our gut sense, they play an important role, and we should not dismiss those in the process. And so that’s step four way alternatives and risk.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:36
So now let’s head on to Step five, which is enlist a devil’s advocate. Okay, so what are the challenges to your decision, and I absolutely would recommend that you invite one or more Devil’s advocates in to the process. And you can also be a devil’s advocate, to help you challenge assumptions and stress test your projections. So with this decision that I just mentioned, I did that. So I became the devil’s advocate on some days. Others I invited to be the devil’s advocate, and really looking at my assumptions and stress testing, projections, because especially if you’re excited about a decision, you might make very rosy projections that aren’t really based in reality. And so when it comes to enlisting a devil’s advocate, this is actually where I see most teams fall apart is they don’t do it. They don’t enlist, devil’s advocate. And I think that that happens for a few reasons. So it can be really painful to make yourself a target, when you’re excited about an idea, right? Like nothing feels worse than going in and getting something you’re really excited about shot down. Like I’ve said several times, making decisions is inherently vulnerable. And so putting yourself up for feedback and shooting down the idea. It’s so vulnerable. And so when we think about inviting in some devil’s advocate, advocates, right, like whether that’s in house or outside, right, so team members should do this, I think people can play different roles at different times. And that can be really helpful. First, we want to have a very respectful process, right? I think the Golden Rule serves us really well here. Consider if you were in the situation, how would you want to be treated, being respectful, having a good respectful process makes a difference. And then the other recommendation for these processes is that we focus on having permission to attack ideas, right? That’s part of what’s happening with the devil’s advocate, and you need to write like you need to stress test your ideas. So we want to attack ideas, but not individuals, okay. And there’s a really big difference there. And so if you need help with that, feel free to check with me. Because there are some important ways that we can do that where we can be very critical thinkers, but we’re not attacking our team members or our peers.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:08
Okay. So the other the other problem when it comes to enlisting a devil’s advocate, why teams don’t do it regularly, is that it can slow the process down and they’re like, well, we need to move forward. We want this bias for action, right, which I’ve talked about a little bit, and I’ll talk about a little bit more next. But we believe that in listening, the devil’s advocate will slow the process down. And here’s what I would say to that. Is that it can it take some time on the front end, to enlist the devil’s advocate to troubleshoot concerns to plan for challenges and to address specific issues. But I am telling you, it will save you a ton of time exponentially more time on the back end, because your better decision will result in better outcomes, better processes, and greater buy in from stakeholders. And that’s really, really good important. And so it takes a little time on the front end, but it will pay big dividends on the back end because you’ll have better decisions and you’ll have a better process. And so as part of this, when we think about enlisting a devil’s advocate, we want to aim for conflict transformation, not conflict resolution. So we don’t want to make decisions by consensus. That’s not what we’re looking for. But we really want conflict transformation. Right? So conflict resolution is really aimed at resolving conflict. And sometimes that’s not reasonable or even desired. Because it leads us to decision making by consensus. And it leads us to avoiding difficult conversations and avoiding addressing concerns directly, which is like not what we want.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:49
Were in contrast, when we aim for conflict transformation, we’re really surfacing all of the concerns, the questions, the feedback, so that we can understand those concerns better, we can address those concerns as a team to say, Okay, what does this mean for you? If we make this decision? Okay, well, it will really hamper my process. Okay, how can we troubleshoot that now, so that we have a solution as part of the decision moving forward. And so at the end of those conversations, you might not get what you want, right? Like, they might move forward with the decision that you still don’t feel great about, but you will know that your concerns were heard, you had an opportunity to address them, you had an opportunity to be to be part of problem solving. And not can really help with by in moving forward. And so that is step five, which is enlist a devil’s advocate. And that takes us to step six, which is you need to take action, you must act. And so, you know, we don’t want our bias for action to to short circuit the process, right, to keep us from enlisting a devil’s advocate. But the truth is in business.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:05
And in life, I would say, you need to have a bias for action. So remember, the common mistake from our last podcast of moving too slowly. And this is often born of anxiety and fear. So you need to do the work of distress tolerance. And what I would say is that your personal work, and it shouldn’t impede the decision making process at with your team. And so we all bring our whole selves to work, right? We bring our baggage, we bring our anxiety, and so you need to have clarity about what’s getting in the way for you when it comes to the decision. And often it is difficulty tolerating the uncertainty and unknown. And that’s where you really would look at distress tolerance skills, that’s your work. That’s not right. Like that’s not the work of the team to make you feel better about it. Right, the work of the team is to problem solve the specific details of the decision. So also, you need to hold the team accountable. And of course, hold yourself accountable. So have a specific process and timeline that the team sticks to, right. That’s the real value of having this the seven steps is it gives your team a framework to move through the decision making process, identify specific targets that help move the decision along. So I would recommend having a timeline having specific targets where it’s like, okay, here, you know, we’re going to gather information up until this date, and then we’re going to meet and we’re going to weigh the alternatives and risk we’re going to review all that information together. And then of course, ask for help and perspective when you get stuck. So holding the team accountable. holding yourself accountable is really very important. And it helps you to keep the process moving.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:57
And that is step six, which is take action, and then our seventh step. So our final step is review decision and results. So remember that no decision is perfect. But the way you move forward can help determine if a decision is a good decision. And it has nothing to do with the specific decision itself. Instead, it has everything to do with what you learn in the process, how you build perspective, how you invite feedback, how you get back up, after you stumble, how you plan for setbacks and contingencies that you couldn’t have planned for. And so as part of reviewing the decision and results, we want to help you and your team tolerate mistakes and failure. If you do so you can ensure the decision can be good for the team. Ultimately, as long as we can learn from the mistakes we it’ll it will help us it will serve us and we need to set expectations so sometimes we might be We might talk a lot about failure. But in actuality, we don’t really tolerate much failure. And so it’s important to set expectations and then practice what you preach to say, we know there are going to be mistakes, we’re going to stumble. But if we can all be open and learn together, then that failure will propel us forward. And that’s what the research really points to. But the minute that we feel shame about our failure, or we don’t feel like we can bring those concerns to a team, or we feel like we’re gonna get judged or blamed. When we admit mistakes, that’s where shame takes over. And we fail to learn the lessons and we fail to grow and progress as a team. So include a process as you move forward, that helps you to test your assumptions, and see how reality matches up with your assumptions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:54
So right like the assumptions, the alternatives and risks that you set for that the beginning. We want you to to track that as you move forward, so that you can learn and iterate as you go. So of course, we want to do retros after the fact or post mortems after the fact. And then we also want to sharpen the saw throughout. So not only are we you know, enacting a decision and the details of that work, but we’re also paying attention to the process of how that’s unfolding, and learning the lessons as we go so that we can continually sharpen our saw, and make sure that those lessons can be applied productively moving forward. And so that’s step seven, review, review decisions and results. So again, these are seven steps to better decisions. Step one, identify the decision to be made step two, establish strategic priorities. Step three, gather information. Step four, weigh alternatives and risk step five, enlisted devil’s advocate step six, take action and step seven, review decision and results.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:08
And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/168-7stepstobetterdecisions.So one more time that www.drmelissasmith.com/168-7stepstobetterdecisions In the meantime, I would love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith I always have lots of resources. So, you know, if you want to make sure you get that list of seven steps, I will have that on Instagram. I will have lots of other good resources and questions for you and your team. And in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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