IN TOUCH : Decisions… decisions!

Hmmmm… healthy water or stimulating coffee? Would that all decisions in life or in business were that clear cut. The reality is messier, often more brutal and seldom consensual. In fact, as Paul Gordon points out, striving for consensus can be frustrating waste of time.
“The reality is that you can’t change people’s views if they’re well entrenched but you can get them to support the outcome of decision-making process. We don’t strive for consensus – we strive for alignment behind the decision that’s been made. And getting everybody behind it is more important than the actual decision itself in many ways because it really generates the power of the organisation in the same direction.”
Gordon is something of an expert on how groups of people make decisions – his company helps range of private and public sector organisations in the United Kingdom and the United States make complex and often very curly decisions.
“Something we did for the Department of the Environment in the UK last year was work on the question of ‘where to put nuclear waste’. It was one of the largest public consultation processes ever undertaken there – going out to everyone from environmentalists to nuclear energy companies, public authorities and community groups.”
His company Catalyze built the decision model that brought together all the arguments and the process did actually achieve alignment – in record time.
The process his company offers is based on techniques developed over many years by the London School of Economics and utilises combination of software and social process. The first stage involves capturing all the elements of the decision – what’s important to the company – not just for this particular question but in terms of its overall strategic direction. What are they trying to do as business?
“As you can imagine, that sometimes meets with blank looks so we have to work on that bit first.”
All that gets fed into the software model which is, says Gordon, all very transparent – not some black box clever-ness. More way of capturing all the relevant elements – and tracking their subsequent chunking down into what he calls “decision criteria”.
“That’s list of very specific things that if met by decision or if the right combination of them is met really reveals the crux of what is the right decision.”
The modelling helps break complex decision down into chunks the human brain can more readily process, says Gordon.
“The reality is that we’re not that great at objectivity in decision-making.
“People have built-in biases, some have bigger egos or bigger voices than others. You get the VP of finance who has lot to contribute but doesn’t say much, and the VP marketing who’s table thumper. So our role and process is that of facilitation – to ensure everyone is engaged, pick out all the important stuff and break it down into bits the human brain can more readily manage.”
There are also plenty of reality checks along the process.
“We always do the gut feeling test – ‘does this feel right?’ – because if people around the table aren’t comfortable, it won’t matter what decision gets made they’re never going to carry it through. Generally, it does, though there may be some priority rearranging. The only thing that matters is what is the right answer.”
But these discussions help boil out preconceived ideas and some of the egos, says Gordon.
“There’s often lot of dialogue and disagreement but we try to promote that because when you get argument you get understanding.”
The system also demonstrates to people who have very strong view of what the outcome should be that this was part of the decision-making process. The result is that they come away satisfied they were heard and can say “that was my preference but I agree with the overall results”, notes Gordon.
Catalyze has been operating in the UK for several years but is only now setting up branches in this part of the world – Gordon is here to spearhead establishment in New Zealand.
“Clearly New Zealand faces lot of challenges both in the public and private sectors with the need to move yourself up the value chain on global scale and build some more power into the economy. All that background says the techniques we’ve got can help that process along – to get more efficiency in decision-making so that everyone gets behind where the organisation wants to go.”

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