Have you had those times when you felt you made the wrong decision for your enterprise?
For myself, countless times. If only I did this, if only I did that. I would have been richer. I would have had a better life. I’d have been happier. Etcetera, etcetera.
Making wrong decisions is a part of life but how does one know a decision is wrong in the first place? How does one make a right decision?
Decisions reflect our desired outcomes, our visions for the future. We base our decisions on objectives and overall strategies.
Decisions we make are manifest in the plans we implement and the policies we set. Decisions illustrate how we deal with so much or so little information. Decisions determine how effective we hurdle day-to-day obstacles and how we turn unexpected opportunities into beneficial realities.
We would always want to know if our decisions are on track with our goals. How do we do that? The following are my two-cents’ worth of tips:
- It starts with a roadmap.
A ship navigates based on what it sees ahead and the maps it has. It’s the same with enterprises. We plan our routes based on our destinations. An enterprise needs a roadmap to know how it will reach a desired outcome.
Enterprise roadmaps come in the form of objectives and supporting action plans. Every action plan is a step towards a pre-determined objective. Action plans need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound, and challenging (achieving an objective often is). Action plans must be relevant to the roadmap otherwise it is a useless exercise, a wasted diversion for the enterprise.
2. Establish visibility from all angles and observe.
Sea-going ships utilise technologies such as over-the-horizon radar and satellite weather imagery to see what’s ahead of them, behind them, beside them, and what’s coming. (Also, below them if you include sonar). Ship crews also monitor the insides of their vessels to know how well things are operating.
Ship crews, however, don’t just rely on data. They observe. Observe means to detect for the sake of response. Because when a ship is at sea, it needs to be responsive to whatever unexpected event may happen.
Enterprises in the same way need to know what’s happening from all sides, that is, the market, their vendors, and their operations. And they need to observe and respond.
State-of-the-art technologies such as artificial intelligence have brought on ideas for automated decision-making. There may come at a time when many day-to-day decisions will be left to high-tech machinery. Accountability, however, will still be on the shoulders of the enterprise’s ownership. So, whatever the future may bring, enterprises need to ensure they have the protocols to observe for the responses they would decide to do.
3. Organise the Observations.
Enterprises should organise what they observe to guide their owners in the decisions they make.
Organising observations means putting them in order for quick understanding and response. Key data need to be identified. Records kept. Summaries made. Reports presented. Charts and visual aids would be helpful. And all should be updated frequently.
An enterprise knows it is organising observations effectively when it sees its owners using them every day and basing plans on them. Enterprises should winnow (i.e. optimize not filter) data to their most useful state such that owners can make responsive decisions.
4. Run weekly planning sessions but if things get boring, run simulations.
Some of us hate to exercise. But most of us do it anyway because we know it’s good for us.
Enterprises should also exercise. Armed force militaries do it to prepare for battles, so shouldn’t enterprises do it too?
Many enterprises already exercise via weekly crisis executive planning sessions. I say crisis, because if an enterprise’s executives are meeting once a week, there probably is at least one crisis after another that’s happening. (Some enterprises conduct once-a-quarter planning sessions even if there are pressing problems; it is in these enterprises that executives are constantly in stress).
Planning sessions, however stressful they may be, hone the skills of executive managers. Something like when a blacksmith heats iron bars and immediately quenches them with cold water. The up and down stresses of the sessions condition managers for future challenges.
But as enterprises grow and managers get more skilful, the sessions get boring and fewer. It is at this point that executives should consider simulations in the place of infrequent real-life crises.
Simulations are like mini-workshops for enterprise executives to develop their decision-making skills. The traditional option would be to attend seminars and workshops. But doing workshops and seminars would like be jogging a few days a year. One should exercise regularly to make a difference.
Simulations bring forth what-if cases of opportunity and adversity for executives and managers to work through. The best types of simulations are those that would entail issues that executives would least expect (like a global health virus from China). Simulations should target executives’ responsiveness towards opportunities and adversities.
5. Record the experiences, not only yours or mine but everyone’s.
One must record everything from minutes to notes to action plans to performance metrics. Doesn’t hurt to have archives especially when people change within organisations. A datum is like a book in a library—an enterprise may never need one that often but when the need does arise, it’s nice if one is there ready to be referred to. It’s important of course to organise the records (see #3 above).
It has come to a point where we need to assure ourselves that we are making the right decisions in a world where things change quickly, either adversely or opportunely.
Making the right decisions starts with a roadmap that’s made up of deliberate action plans. We’d need to establish visibility for what’s ahead and organise our information into content that matters. And we’d need to sharpen our skills through multi-functional teamwork in crises or via simulated exercises. We’d need to record all of what we do because it would be helpful to have something to refer to for future challenges.
Being decisive includes being secure in deciding correctly. Opportunity knocks, adversity strikes. It pays to be prepared.