Decision Making in a World Full of Noise

Today, more than ever, executives have the tools at their fingertips to make informed decisions based on rational data. Further, leaders are more aware of cognitive biases that interfere with good decisions. Yet, the very data that gives us knowledge threatens to overwhelm and business organizations have become more complex and hierarchical—a case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

A recent survey showed that 72% of executives thought that bad decisions occurred about as often as good decisions. Too much information and too many decision makers result in organizations that are:

  • Disengaged
  • Paralyzed
  • Anxious

The long-term answer to effective decision making could be flatter and more agile organizations. In the case of banking group ING, they reorganized into “13 tribes” with 350 nine-person “squads.” The results were increased productivity, higher employee engagement, and improved the timing of product to market.

Barring such a massive shift, what can leaders do to make better decisions? A two-step process might be the answer. The first portion aims to check bias through a series of questions such as “Have they [recommenders] compared their assumptions with those made for a comparable internal project?” and “Have they [recommenders] assembled a diverse team for the decision making process?” The second portion tries to illuminate potential downside risk by asking, “Inside the organization, what are this decision’s two most important side effects that might negatively affect its outcome?” Answers are then scored according to a matrix which will then suggest a further course of action such as “Reconsider,” “Stress test,” or “Decide.”

It may appear time consuming and perhaps futile to go through such an exercise. However, it is an inexpensive tool that may perhaps cause your team to examine more closely possible flaws in the product or project, leading to time and money savings instead of a failed outcome.

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