On my last business in my hometown of Nashville, TN, I was blessed to help my 11 year-old niece study for an upcoming science test. The subject matter appeared to be mostly biology/anatomy because most of the questions I was asking were focused on the human body, specifically the musculoskeletal system. Boy, was I happy to be on the asking end of those questions and not the answering side! As we continued on with her studying, the subject changed dramatically to the Engineering Design Process. When I asked her why they were studying this section, she said it was because they were going to design a knee brace! As she recited the five process steps and the details behind each one of them, I realized these were the same steps that “should” be taken in order to make effective decisions in both our personal and professional lives. This process could also be called the anatomy of a decision. Amazing how leadership lessons are in front of me all the time and on this evening it came in the form of sixth grade science principles.
Decisions. The thought of that nine letter word makes some people come alive and feel energized and causes other people to run in fear like it is the next plague. Yet each and every one of us is faced with them on a daily basis. Simple tasks like selecting your work or school outfit or what to eat (or not eat) all require making a decision so whether you like it or not, it’s a part of our personal and professional lives. For those of you that may be frustrated by decision-making or perhaps feel that you could improve these skills, feel free to Google “decision making process” to see how many different theories and process steps exist. (Hint: A LOT.) Yet, when I read the process steps for the Engineering Design Process, I realized that those were the same steps that I was taking (consciously or unconsciously) in making my decisions.
As a leader, the quality of your personal and professional outcomes will be defined largely by your ability to make decisions on behalf of yourself and others in your life. By morphing the following five design process steps into the anatomy of a decision, I believe you can transform your decisions into choices that will be productive and effective for all parties involved.
I love that this is the first step of the process because it reminds us to question. When making a decision it is important to ask a series of questions. Many journalists use the Five W’s, Who, What, When, Where and Why in their interviews and they are a good foundation for decisions as well. Ask:
Who is impacted by this decision (positively or negatively)? Who needs to make the decision a reality?
What is the intention of this decision? What outcome do I want to achieve for myself and others? What have we done previously that worked or did not work? What will be the consequences, if any, of may decision?
When do I want the outcome to happen? When does the decision have to be finalized?
Where will my decision be implemented? Where will the resources (time, money and people) come from to make the decision? Where will the decision be used?
Why is this decision necessary? Why would any person be in support or disagreement with my decision?
These powerful questions provide you the fuel you need to get your creative juices flowing to be able to move to the next process step. Leaders ask powerful questions.
With a curious mind, you can now imagine the answers to each of these questions. Imagining simply requires forming a mental image of what your decision might look like. This step can be effective when done simultaneously while asking your powerful questions. As you ask each question, stop and wait for a mental image to come to mind. When they come write them down regardless of how silly, unrealistic, or unfeasible they sound. Real imagining requires letting go of past experiences and dissipating boundaries. This two process step (ask and imagine) is sometimes referred to as brainstorming. A time to get all thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto paper. No idea is too small, too big, too dumb, or too far out there! Let all ideas flow. Leaders imagine with an open mind.
This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. The planning stage allows you to create the roadmap for how your decision will be implemented. I have seen so many decisions get made on paper and yet never come to fruition. A good plan consists of the expected outcome, the detailed actions steps that must happen to reach your outcome, the list of resources required to make your decision happen, and the measurements that will be set in motion to monitor the expected outcomes. Think of your plan as the blueprint from which you will create your successful decision. Leaders create plans to achieve their outcomes.
Now it is time to take action! There are three key process steps need before actually implementing your decision. All too often, I have seen bosses (not leaders) short cycle the ask-imagine-plan steps and go straight to create. In other words, they act with little to no thought given to the process or the outcome. Almost always these types of decisions lead to ineffective results over the long term. In creating, you are actually implementing the steps that were laid out in the plan. Can you imagine the house that would get constructed without the architect’s plans for the structure? It probably would not be functional nor sustainable. Neither are decisions that are created without plans in mind! Leaders create with firm plans.
The best laid plans and decisions an always be improved upon. Some may feel that the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy works for them however, I believe doing so leads to ineffective results for the long term. It is critical to benchmark your creations and decisions after they have been in place for a period of time. Whether it is 30 days, 90 days, or a year, take time to begin the process all over again. Typically after the plan has had a little time to work, people usually become interested in making it better. Ask, Imagine, Plan and Create to improve the situation or outcome. Leaders continuously improve.
Making decisions is not a finite act. When done effectively, it requires a series of processes to make it become a reality. Leaders are masters in decisions when they embrace the anatomy of a decision as a standard practice…. Ask, Imagine, Create, Plan and Improve. You and your team will be amazed your successful and productive outcomes!