Insight Blog

A Decision-Making Compass

by David Alhadeff

June 27, 2019 | Change Management

Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….” to reflect two very different scenarios at the same point in time. And while Dickens was characterizing the socio-economic landscape in 18th century Europe, the same paradox seems to exist today in 21st century business regarding the current environment and the resulting success of business leaders who make and execute business decisions during times of significant change. The environment is fantastic; we have more data, vastly improved analytics, and endless experience and information from which to make decisions. The results have been discouraging; we have become slower at making decisions and, on average, less committed to the decisions we do make. In a recently published study, Mckinsey estimated that the amount of lost management time on inefficient decision making equates to $250 million annually for a typical Fortune 500 company.1

The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator has defined four distinct profiles around the varied ways people engage in decision making. Considerations range from the value of intuition to concerns around ethical implications, from a commitment to details and past experience to a reliance on logic. Modern business has developed systems that run far-reaching economic models on different decision scenarios, governance structures are established to ensure that fair and sound decision making disciplines are in place, and succession plans reward high potential candidates who demonstrate decision making prowess. Yet the 2019 Mckinsey & Company study cited above reported “growing levels of frustration with broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making deliberations, and with the uneven quality of decision-making outcomes.”1

For change leaders accountable for many important people decisions related to any change initiative, decision making becomes the litmus test for organizational resistance. Human capital decisions start early and become increasingly complex. How do we best assess the people risks associated with a change? Whom should we target in our initial communications? Which leaders carry the most cultural clout and should become key sponsors? What risks do we prioritize? Which jobs will change the most? How do we energize the core team?  The list of decisions goes on and on.  If decisions are made with efficiency and conviction, informed by the right perspectives, engaging the right people, and executed with empathy, there will be less overall resistance. Conversely, decisions made with perceived autonomy, crippled by poor timing and communication, and executed without forethought will yield skepticism and a disgruntled workforce. Organizational culture, project and budget constraints, and human emotions further complicate the landscape. So what kind of a compass can we use to help navigate the decision-making terrain for any given change initiative?

At Lake Shore Associates, we utilize the Prosci-based Change Management methodology and tools to improve the way decisions are made and implemented. As reflected in the quote above, the Mckinsey survey uncovered three weaknesses in executive decision-making. One weakness relates to the slow pace of decision making.  According to the survey, “managers at a typical Fortune 500 company may waste more than 500,000 days a year on ineffective decision making.” Decision speed is hampered when relevant constituents are not brought into the conversation at the right time and when “decision” meetings are held without clear objectives. A second weakness relates to the quality of the decision-making process itself. Inefficiency prevails when the process does not include the right stakeholders. There are no clear roles associated with the proper facilitation of the decision-making process itself. Productive debate is missing. The agreed upon process (e.g. consensus, compromise) does not properly match the nature of the decision. A third weakness relates to the faulty execution of decisions that have been made. A feeling of compliance rather than commitment to a decision made leads to implementation constraints or outright resistance. Stakeholders who felt uninvolved in the process are difficult to engage in the execution of the decision.  If we can consider some of the tools available in our change toolkit, we can begin to turn the tide and reap the benefits of a sound, decision making discipline. Below are some examples of tools or ideas that can assist you as a change leader in facilitating positive and momentum-building people decisions.

Stakeholder mapping can help define the array of groups and individuals that will influence and/or be impacted by the change at hand. As the table below indicates, recognizing the relative significance of each stakeholder can expedite the involvement of the right people for specific decisions. For example, if we know that sales managers will be heavily impacted by a new CRM system, we might choose to interview key sales leaders or include respected sales personnel in the vendor presentations so that the ultimate decision can be made more quickly and thoughtfully. Such a planned approach also drives the successful execution and sustainability of the decision, as commitment has been secured from the sales team by virtue of the process used.

Training design decisions can be difficult, as change leaders are often pressured into webinar-based delivery modes that will not consume as much time during the work day as traditional, instructor-based classroom training. Conducting a thorough job impact assessment that examines the role-based implications of a new process or a new acquisition can ease the stress of making and executing this type of decision. Individual impacts identified from this analysis inform the proper modality that will best develop the needed skills. At an outdoor apparel company that was rolling out a new demand planning process, assessment findings suggested that the forecasting team would need to become proficient and collaborative in advanced statistics in order to be able to maximize the functionality of the SAP module that was being introduced. The proper decision became clear, and demand personnel were sent to a local community college to collectively complete a statistics course as part of the training rollout.

Perhaps no aspect of a change initiative involves more constant decision-making than the communications workstream. By taking the time to build out a cohesive communication strategy, the change leader can establish clear direction around all components of the plan. An upfront risk and readiness assessment will suggest key audiences with whom to communicate and critical departments from whom change agents might be enrolled. A communication audit can inform the thinking on optimal channels that should be used. Leadership action plans can help decide which stakeholder might best deliver a specific message. Finally, a well oriented change agent network will help sustain the impact of the decisions that have been made earlier in the project around key messages related to the change.

Any change initiative will involve a number of important decisions. Technological and intellectual horse power combine to offer the greatest potential for meaningful people decisions. The workforce, however, is waiting for not only the decisions themselves, but the manner and grace with which those decisions are formulated. Understanding the impact of each big decision, engaging others in the decision process itself, and soliciting input early in order to accelerate and improve the execution of a decision will all contribute to faster, better and more successful decisions over time. Indeed, during these “best of times” with advanced capability and unlimited resources, decision making should serve as an accelerator for growth and an opportunity for competitive advantage.

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your project and change management needs, visit

1McKinsey & Company, May 2019
McKinsey Quarterly “Three Keys to Faster, Better Decisions”