How Can Managers Make Difficult Decisions?

In order to do it the right way, you need to know what questions to ask
In order to do it the right way, you need to know what questions to ask
Image Credit: Sasquatch I

Being a good manager is all about making good decisions. If the decisions are not all that hard to make, then this can be an easy thing to do. However, when we are faced with making a difficult decision then all of sudden this being a manager thing can get a whole lot tougher. What we need to understand is that in order to make good difficult decisions we need to make sure that we understand the situation and that we ask the right questions.

Making Decisions Too Quickly

As managers we can all make a very common mistake – we can end up making a decision unilaterally, without taking the time to take the temperature of the room. Whether we demand that everyone is working side-by-side at the office by next Monday or that everyone’s health coverage is about to change – and not for the better – it’s no wonder our decision flops. It never really had a chance. Our decisions lose their power when they lose stakeholder engagement. Managers want, and crucially need to get, buy-in. Otherwise, there is the real possibility that their decision may never be fully implemented or respected.

Making Decisions The Right Way

What managers need is an end-to-end process for making difficult decisions while at the same time building consensus. Time invested by us upfront is more efficient than having to repair relationships and hurt feelings down the road. If we want to make good decisions then what we need to learn how to do is to ask the right questions. Managers need to ask “What am I deciding?” and “Should I be deciding?” We have to think any scenario through. This starts by first asking ourselves, what is the actual question? Does our framing capture the crux of the issue, or are we considering a superficial question and need to go even deeper?

We also have to ask if the decision that needs to be made is within your responsibilities? Even if it is, is there as possibility that there is someone closer to the dilemma who should make the decision instead? If someone more junior could make the call, you can use this as an opportunity to delegate to them.

An important part of any decision that we are being called on to make is to evaluate just how urgent is it. If the decision is important and needs to be made but if it is not urgent, you need to put more time in to making your decision. Issues with a larger scope and impact will benefit from greater using emotional buy-in through driving consensus. Urgent questions that are less consequential may need input from more authoritative leadership.

Every decision that we make requires that we understand who are your stakeholders? How do you plan on engaging them? If you’re going to make a tough choice that may have wide effects, you need to get people on your side. You will need to start preparing them well before you get to the heart of the matter. You need to ask who wants to be involved in the decision? Who might be interested but who doesn’t actually need to be involved? Who needs to be aware of the decision that will be made? If you ask someone for their opinion without intending to follow their advice, you run the risk disengaging or insulting them. You need to think through your stakeholders’ individual styles and needs and consider what approach will secure their investment on clear and transparent terms.

Managers have a responsibility to their team. We need to explain how the decision is going to be made. Once we’ve done that, we need to ask our stakeholders for their input. We will have to decide if the decision be decided democratically with a vote, or by consensus, giving each individual a veto? Or are we simply hoping to hear a few different views that may inform our own thinking? What we want to do is to avoid ambiguity or soft balling the message because we’re afraid that our stakeholders won’t like how we want the decision to be made. We need to understand that they will be less happy if they think they’re getting a vote when they aren’t.

When the decision has been made, we need to remember to thank our stakeholders for their input. We can do this by saying “I really appreciate your view,” or “Thanks for letting me hear your voice.” Remind them how you plan on making the decision and whether they have a vote, veto, voice, or a view. This should help them live with the decision even if it’s not the outcome they had hoped for.

One helpful thing that all managers can do is to standardize their meetings to help focus on decision-making. What this means is that we need to start to create meeting agendas organized around making decisions. For these meetings, next to each item, the manager needs to identify who holds decision-making authority and how the decision will be made. By putting it on paper this will force the manager to consider their expectations beforehand and ensured that everyone in attendance can either challenge the agenda or align with it.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the most important things that managers do is to make decisions. Because of this, we would all like to make the best decisions possible. We need to understand that the decisions that we make will have an impact on our team. This means that we need to make sure that our team understands how the decision is being made and that they feel as though they have voice in the process. Knowing how to make decisions is something that every manager needs to know how to do correctly.

Making good decisions is all about learning how to ask the right questions. When it comes time to make a decision we need to determine if it is within your responsibilities and just exactly how urgent it is. For a given decision, who are the stakeholders who will be affected by it? In order to get buy in from our team on a given decision, we need to make the effort to get everyone’s inputs. Once the decision has been made we have to thank everyone who provided input. Creating meetings with a focus on decision making can help the process along.

Tough decisions are never easy for managers to make but having a process for creating buy-in ensures a level of consistency and transparency. The true test is if a decision is made on time and with support, even if – or especially if – stakeholders disagree. Make sure that the next decision that you make is made the right way!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How can managers determine if they are doing a good job of getting input on decisions?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time