Friday, March 30, 2007

Getting Business Decisions Made - 2

A few days ago I posted on this subject. This is a continuation of that post...

I had already discussed the first of Esther Derby's 6 steps. (Again, I am trying to discuss something different from what she was going at, so naturally there will be differences.) For her 2nd step...

2. Determine what’s important to the person who makes the decision.
First. decide who you think the decision-maker should be. Try to arrange things so that the right decision-maker is involved, or the right group of people is involved. Often, hearing intangible benefits from multiple people will make the benefits more real to the decision-maker.

Second. One model is a single decision-maker and multiple advisors. Another model is a loosely defined decision-making team. Think through what the model really is in your situation.

Third. Consider what you think ought to be important as decision criteria. If what you think is important is not congruent with what the decision-makers think is important...consider a short or long campaign to influence their thinking. Say something like "I consider A, B, C, D, and E as the decision criteria, and I weight them as 10, 7, 3, 2, 1. What do you all think?" A campaign can be that simple.

3. Ask that person who they consider credible sources related to the issue.
Esther's advice here relates to hard-to-measure benefits. At a higher level, you are asking: "What kind of information would it take to get you to approve my proposal?" Esther's hypothesis (generally valid) is that absent conclusive hard data, most decision-makers will accept one or a group of "expert" opinions.

In her post, Esther describes multiple things that the decision-maker valued, so naturally (and normally) no one person could be an expert in all those areas. Thus, you need a set of experts' opinions.

More generally, sometimes success is in finding a disparate set of information that, taken together, gives the decider confidence in making a reasonable decision. Maybe: (a) benefits, (b) risk reduction, plus (c) no better alternate course of action. Imagine how you would think making a chess move. Often business can be even more complex than chess in the number of factors that come into a decision.

Remember that you want the decider to feel you are helping her (or him). You want to checkmate the decision; pinning the decider might gain a different and more emotional reaction to your request than you are looking for.

4. Create a short interview protocol.
Again, Esther's advice is appropriate for her case. A more general step is "figure out how you will collect the information", whether by one method or five.

More general advice here is also not to make data collection too onerous. Ask the decider "if I collect this and that info, would that be enough to convince you? I don't want to get into a bigger effort if something smaller would be enough."

Often the decider will say "collect what you can in X days, and come back and show me what you have". Some remember how hard it is to come up with good data.

5. Interview the people the decision maker identified as credible.
Here the general advice is...collect the information. If you haven't done it already, make sure the information is credible to the decider. Or say "here is the info I have collected so far, this is what I feel the information says...but do you feel it is credible?" Be ready to receive input that is it not (yet sufficiently) credible. If you asked in the right tone, she won't be thinking "well, I can't trust the info he brings me anymore."

6. Summarize and present the results.
Sometimes it seems you only get to present once to the decider. Maybe true for one decision. But as mentioned, I am proposing that you not worry about one decision. You are trying to influence for many decisions. And you are trying to learn "how does this manager make decisions? And in what ways can I influence her?"

Esther's point is, of course, well-taken. Every time you present to the decider, think about the kind of presentation that appeals to her. Example: Is it summary first and then selected details? Or build and build details, and then look at the summary? (And lots of other variations of this.) Almost every decider wants a summary. Almost every person wants a summary that has no more than 3-5 bullets. And there are lots more aspects to "presentation" than this.

As a last suggestion. Each person has different kinds of information that they will find convincing. Decisions must be made even if the ideal data is not available. Sometimes a combination of harder data and softer data is convincing. Sometimes you only have 1 to 3 expert opinions. Sometimes you can get a decision if you say "Why don't we try this as an experiment, and see if it works?"

Let me repeat a key point: Costs should never be looked at in isolation. Always consider the benefits and costs together. (And if you want to consider risks as something different, then the upside and downside risks as well.)

Where there is a will, there is a way. You can get more business decisions to go your way.

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