3 Ways to Avoid Shortcuts in Decision Making

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With the power of knowledge and preparation, you’ll never be tempted to make a quick change again.

Because of widespread change fatigue and increased pressure to perform, it’s tempting for leaders  to take shortcuts when making important decisions. But quick changes can introduce costly errors in judgment and inhibit the development of effective decision-making skills. Here are some ways to avoid them.

1. Reconsider the metrics.

Certain systems and protocols have a bias toward accompanying kinds of measurement, but the digital present is introducing new norms. Reconsider what the company is measuring (and why).

Sylvia, CEO of an online retailer, was keenly aware of how her product lines competed in the market. When her organization began to collect additional data on purchase behavior, the metrics she used to set her marketing budget and product mix shifted radically. Previously, her organization measured purchase records, market share data, and returns. Now, they were also measuring abandoned merchandise in digital shopping carts, alternatives selected after a consumer viewed a product, pre-purchase activity, reactions to promotions, and more.

These additional metrics showed them that consumers were not reacting positively toward their new promotions. There was a bias toward who the promotions were being shown to, and the audience that wasn’t seeing the promotions were part of Sylvia’s largest customer base. Sylvia realized that she was missing key information about her customers without these new metrics.

Progressive digital models today 

are selling products and services to an audience, but they’re also collecting data on the back end. That data can be mined or leveraged to create more products and services. You are no longer best served by measuring only how much you’ll make by selling this object to this person. But it isn’t just about updating what you measure; you must reconsider your entire performance management system and the meaning of the metrics.

2. Acknowledge your bias(es).

Break away from the biases that block rapid advances by conducting small experiments, investing proactively in skills training, amplifying faint signals, encouraging imagination, and tolerating failure.

Heidi, head of a manufacturing company, was frustrated by ambiguity around when a new regulation might be enacted. The level and type of enforcement would have major implications for her supply chain. 

She ensured her staff was continuously learning for potential future challenges, investing in training in advance of formal requirements. Rather than calculating only the payoff for the “best” decision, Heidi ran the numbers on how much risk and misplaced investment could be tolerated. An open attitude and a willingness to be transparent about her own lack of knowledge set the tone for the organization. When key regulatory outcomes began to take shape, Heidi’s team was ready to act quickly and decisively.

3. Prioritize continuous self-education.

You should be spending 80% of your time mentally traveling to the future. Look back and try to understand what decisions and investments need to be made to be successful in the future. 

Eduardo’s team wondered why he spent time at conferences targeted at energy technologies and subscribed to newsfeeds in cybersecurity and robotics. Their agricultural firm was thriving, and these topics were unrelated to the business at hand, but his colleagues were not aware that Eduardo focused at least once each week on a 15-year vision of his firm and his role. By doing so, Eduardo “saw” that the energy sources used by his firm, the availability of water, labor costs, regulatory constraints on certain pesticides, and strategic reliance on data would all be radically different. These conferences gave him insights into potential vulnerabilities in areas like energy, cybersecurity, and robotics.

With the power of knowledge, you’ll never be tempted to make a quick change again. You will have prepared the company to make a critical decision in the exact right moment. To have a clear (yet flexible) vision for the future may be the key success in today’s dynamic business world. There’s no faster way to achieve that than through education. 

Trish Gorman is a professor of practice in strategy at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

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