We often hear that great leaders are decisive and the best leaders seem to make decisions quickly and easily. Some people are born with that ability but most of the rest of us have to learn how to do it well. One of the best ways you can develop this skill is by following a problem-solving framework. Toyota has their 8 step problem-solving model, the Air Force has adopted this in a slightly different way and I’ll put links to those in the description below. I’m going to combine and reorder some of these steps just because I think it makes more sense and is a little simpler to remember, but we aren’t going to be skipping anything important. Keep in mind to be thorough and deliberate with this process even when making quick and effective decisions.
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Making Quick and Effective Decisions Step #1 – Analyze the Problem
This step really has two parts. First, identify the problem, not just what we initially perceive it to be. Next, break down the problem into smaller problems to be solved. Both of these require us to be honest with ourselves and others. We may have to admit that things aren’t going well and take action. You’ve heard admitting we have a problem is the first step? That’s true here too. Maybe you’re not trying to solve a problem per se but must choose between multiple options. Going back to what problem these options are solving is a good way to start evaluating them. Breaking that problem down will give you great insight as to how each option might perform. If these options aren’t solving a problem or improving anything, do you really need to choose one?
Making Quick and Effective Decisions Step #2 – Find the Root Cause
The other problem-solving processes have this later in the process, but I think it’s important to get this straight before moving on. Dig deep and keep asking “why” and “how” until you feel like you’ve reached fundamental causes. This requires a lot of patience, but keep digging. Understanding the root causes of a problem can give you much better insight into what goals you set for improvement and which areas you choose to emphasize first. If you want to save this step for later, that will work for you too.
Making Quick and Effective Decisions Step #3 – Set Your Goals
Set goals that are clear, measurable and achievable and address the problem you’ve identified. Also, set intermediate goals for the smaller problems you’ve broken the bigger problem into. If you are time or resource-constrained, you may want to prioritize your efforts on the one or two areas that you think will move the needle the most.
Making Quick and Effective Decisions Step #4 – Create and Evaluate Courses of Action
Now it’s time to come up with the ways you might solve the problem. Try to have different alternatives. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket if you can avoid it. Make sure each proposed alternative fully addresses the problem and the root causes. Otherwise, you’ll be making this decision again soon. One way to do this is to write down your evaluation criteria before you look at the potential options your team creates so that you can assess them objectively.
Making Quick and Effective Decisions Step #5 – Implement and Assess
After you’ve looked at all of the options, choose the best one and make it happen. Measure how well you’re reaching your goals and if you’re ahead, behind, or on track. Keep watching to see if the root causes of the problem are going away or if they recur. After you’ve met your goal, decide if you keep doing what you’re doing or set a new, more ambitious goal.
The other 8 step processes have one more step: Standardize and Share success. If that’s appropriate to do across your larger organization, go ahead and share. When it comes to sharing success, give your team the credit they deserve for turning your decision into reality. While this was focused on problem-solving, making quick and effective decisions is just a different kind of problem-solving. Try these 5 tips next time you have to make a decision. The steps don’t need to take a long time. You can actually do this process fairly quickly if you are thorough and deliberate.