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10 Questions Drive Better Decision-Making

Janellis has completed a series of Critical Thinking Labs with executives from a broad range of industries. In these interactive and experiential workshops, we found there is consensus across all sectors for improved decision-making at all levels within the organisation. The reason is some individuals and teams are:

  • “too quick to make decisions without considering the facts and/or impacts”
  • “too slow to make decisions and with poor judgement”
  • “making decisions with bias, limited structure or rigor”

Many organisations want to become more adaptive and to embed an ‘agile’ culture. This relies on effective decision-making at all layers within the organisation.

A broad spectrum of skills underpin good decision-making including the ability to ‘cut through’ by: analysing, verifying and clarifying. Imagining, perceiving and collaborating are core skills. While synthesising, prioritising, planning and communicating are the essential elements of good decision making.

Many of these skills are considered ‘Critical Thinking’ skills. Not surprisingly, it is usually the executive leaders within the organisation who have honed these skills through intuition and experience.

There is a need to build these skills across the organisation more broadly. After all, “a company’s strategy is the sum of decisions it effectively makes and executes over time”. This needs to happen at all layers on a day-to-day basis, not just for the executive-led decisions.

Recently we have been asked the following questions:

How can we simplify the decision-making process? How can we speed it up? How can we provide more rigor? How can we improve decision-making at all levels within the organisation?

Janellis has developed a Decision Support Tool. For more than ten years, senior leaders have used the tool to navigate through some of their most complex challenges. Most teams like the simplicity and structure but others don’t like the words ‘tool’, process or framework as they feel they already have enough of these within their organisation.

For those who don’t want another framework or ‘tool’ we have summarised the ten key questions that drive better decision-making. These questions assume that an individual is making a decision or leading the discussion with the right people present.

10 key questions are:

  1. What are the facts?
  2. What are the assumptions?
  3. What is the main issue / opportunity?
  4. Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the most likely outcome?
  5. Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the worst-case scenario?
  6. Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the best-case scenario?
  7. Based on these scenarios what are the likely impacts across the key areas of the organisation? i.e. People, Finance, Customers, Strategy, etc.
  8. What do we need to do now and what do we need to do later?
  9. Who are all the key stakeholders that we need to communicate with?
  10. How, who and when will we communicate?

These steps may seem obvious and simplistic but debating the facts and assumptions is essential to cutting through to the main issue, particularly where there is incomplete or conflicting information. Data is an important part of getting to the facts and should be used to inform and support decision-making but not dictate it. Challenging assumptions can highlight conscious and unconscious bias at the same time as drawing upon intuition and experience. The importance of this step cannot be overstated as the rest of the decision-making is often underpinned by how well this is done.

We consider all steps in our process as Critical Thinking, but in their purest form some of the key steps include Creative Thinking. In his book Think Better Tim, Hurson says:

 “The overarching principle of productive thinking is that creative thinking and critical thinking have to separate. The productive thinking dynamic is the ongoing alternation between critical thinking and creative thinking. Imagine a kayak paddle. One side stands for creative thinking and the other critical. If you always use the creative thinking paddle you will go around in circles. If you use the critical paddle you go in circles the other way. 

The key is to alternate between the two. That way you develop enormous forward momentum.”

When following the steps in a group situation, it becomes clear who is more inclined towards Creative Thinking or Critical Thinking. Bringing a team together who have diversity of thought and experience, allows them to ‘toggle’ between Critical and Creative Thinking in a way that creates momentum and produces more robust decision-making.

The benefit of using the framework is it provides rigor for the individual or teams to ‘stay within the process’. This is particularly valuable where there are personal preferences and inclinations to stay too long in either the Creative or Critical Thinking phase, running the risk of ‘going around in circles‘.

If you would like to learn more about Critical Thinking, sign up to our upcoming Virtual Lab to see how it’s used.

 

Developing Critical Thinking within Teams

In my last article on Using Scenario Planning to Build an Adaptive Capacity, I mentioned the research we undertook with executives about Building Resilience within Critical Infrastructure and The Value of Change Management in Executing Strategy.

Our research found that, for some organisations, there has been a convergence of issues such as:

  • A resilient organisation has been described as one that has an adaptive capacity to deal with change and;
  • Organisations looking to improve the Change Management aspects of executing strategy are seeking to build greater resilience in their people, specifically in leading and responding well to change.

Developing ‘critical thinking’ within teams

One of the main approaches Janellis takes in helping organisations build their resilience and adaptive capacity is to enhance and develop Critical Thinking Skills. The tool we use to embed and enable team-based critical thinking is our Executive Decision Support Tool.

The tool has been designed to enable critical thinking during times of high pressure and scrutiny to:

  • Cut through conflicting or incomplete information.
  • Understand priorities.
  • Assess impacts across key areas.
  • Make decisions.
  • Allocate tasks and communicate effectively to a full range of identified stakeholders.

The tool allows teams to be agile and adaptive and to demonstrate resilience in the face of rapid and disruptive change.

Teams who have been using the tool for many years have intuitively used this capability in other areas such as running major transformation projects, steering committee meetings and responding to significant regulatory changes.

Most successful leaders already follow this critical thinking process in an intuitive way, on a personal level. Using the tool enables critical thinking capability to be developed more broadly in a collective way, that draws upon the diverse views and experiences within the team or organisation.

The benefits in using an Executive Decision Support Tool are:

  • Helping teams through critical decision points in establishing the strategic direction or within projects being planned or underway.
  • Providing more rigor for steering committee members to help uncover issues, confirm priorities, guide decision-making and enhance stakeholder engagement.
  • Uncovering blind spots to respond effectively to all types of risks including those that are strategic or slow burn.
  • Enabling a strong risk-­based culture through a more thorough evaluation process of key impacts.

The tool can be used at any level within the organisation to uplift critical thinking capability and to accelerate the development of emerging leaders.

Critical thinking enables leaders to understand the impact of their decisions and helps create alignment and accountability for results.

For more information on the tool, the research or our Critical Thinking Hub please email info@janellis.com.au.

Using Scenario Planning to Build Resilience

Calculating the Value of Change Management

Calculating the value of change management is a challenge for executives and leaders who need to quantify their investments in this area. How do they know they are getting a true return on investment? Even some of the largest change teams, where there are high levels of change maturity and awareness, are constantly scrutinised to provide tangible visibility and metrics.

The greatest fear is to invest in key initiatives that do not provide the expected benefits. This could be a $1B enterprise-wide Transformation program where the new structure and processes are not understood or adopted, or could be a $1M Technology project where staff then do not use the newly implemented system.

What is the ‘opportunity cost’ of not getting it right, and not getting it right the very first time? There is obviously a huge financial saving to an organisation when they do get it right, and that financial number will depend on the scale of the initiative.

Success over Failure

In my last article titled Strategy Execution Trends for 2017, I summarised the current top trends that executives are driving to improve organisational performance and execute strategy ‘better’. A key trend was the investment in change management:

‘Taking a proactive and integrated change management approach to business transformation and project delivery is providing savings and an increased return on investment (ROI). Change management effort and output is being quantified by measurement of these savings, and also the ‘opportunity cost’ of failed delivery directly resulting from a lack of change management investment.’

Change management expertise is critical to the success of organisational programs, projects, and initiatives. Investment in change management has increased as a direct result of executive acceptance that this is now proven and can be evidenced. Change management expertise provides a higher likelihood of change adoption and benefits realisation.

Measuring Change Management

Change management has in the past been measured through soft or qualifiable methods and key indicators rather than quantifiable methods and hard numbers. Change management is not a one-size-fits-all approach and can be scaled to fit different organisations. There is also not one standard benchmark formula that provides a hard value measurement on Change Management.

Typically the measurement has been linked to key outcomes. For example: a project was delivered on time and within budget, 10 key strategic benefits were realised, productivity increased by 20%, there was an 85% employee uptake, project waste or re-work was reduced by $500,000.

Some industry approaches to measuring change management include:

  • Measuring the productivity of the workforce before and after a change was implemented.
  • Measuring progress and adoption rates.
  • Surveying engagement levels.
  • Developing tools that assess the effectiveness of specific change management activities and measure the outcome of a change initiative.
  • Building scorecards for change and creating a set of metrics to gauge effectiveness.
  • Quantitative measurement linked to reaching key goals.

According to Prosci – the world’s leading change management research company:

‘The top trend identified in our global benchmarking studies was a greater recognition of the value of change management.’ 

‘A discipline focused on enabling and encouraging employees to embrace, adopt and utilise change required by a project or initiative will directly contribute to higher return on organisational investment through faster adoption, greater utilisation and higher proficiency. Change management directly contributes to ROI.

For more information on Transformation and Change Management please visit:

The Value of Strategic Alignment Reviews

Billions of dollars are invested in programs and projects daily. The financial and opportunity cost of investment in programs that fail to deliver on strategic outcomes continues to be a significant challenge for organisations.

Undertaking a Program Strategic Alignment Review ensures that strategic benefits and outcomes agreed by executives and key sponsors will be met; facilitates effective and successful program delivery; saves substantial amounts of investment in program re-work; and helps organisations to realise their Return on Investment (ROI).

Case Example

A Janellis client recently had a high-profile enterprise program in-flight that was composed of a portfolio of multiple technology projects. The program, at the outset, was thought to have had clear and well-defined strategic benefits and outcomes agreed with the Executive.

During a critical stage of the program, concerns were raised and specific questions posed:

  • “Are the strategic outcomes going to be met?”
  • “Are we doing the projects in the right order?”
  • “Are the projects going to meet Executive expectations?”
  • “Is the program set up for success?”

An urgent and independent Program Strategic Alignment Review was conducted by Janellis with the goal to answer the above listed questions and provide evidence and recommendations to support the findings.

The assignment was sponsored at the Executive level with a clear mandate but also coincided with an organisational restructure that was in progress. The uncertainty and lack of clarity around ownership made the approach to effective stakeholder engagement critical in ensuring the assignment was completed successfully.

Findings

One-on-one interviews were conducted with a diverse range of stakeholders and the findings were that the program had been under-resourced and under-funded due to competing economic demands, and there was a lack of clarity and ownership in key areas.

It was found that the program had not been structured as well as it should have and key decisions at a project level had been made based on spend rather than the combination of ‘best solution’ and ‘cost’. Importantly it was also found that the strategic objectives, benefits and outcomes had not been defined well enough.

Outcome

The Program Strategic Alignment Review Report was provided to the Chief Executive as an independent assessment with an agreed revised plan and strategy, including the case for new funding commitment to invest in fixing the program. The program was re-defined with clearer and more detailed outcomes and expectations, and more strategic consideration for stakeholder engagement and alignment.

Post-engagement the client assigned a new senior program manager to lead the high-profile program. The contents of the review and report were critical in helping the program manager to make the right decisions in re-setting the program and re-affirming the strategic benefits and desired outcomes. The program has now been successfully delivered.

Janellis Strategic Alignment Reviews can be done at any stage during a project or program using our consultative discovery process. A Program Alignment Report is created with findings and recommendations delivered in a succinct and visual way and typically includes an Executive Summary, Program Overview, Key Insights, Concerns, Recommendations, and an Action Plan.

Building an Agile Culture

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, business leaders are looking to strip back traditional and cumbersome business process, and create new work cultures and mechanisms that enable faster execution and faster delivery – many are turning Agile.

Agile is hardly a new term. Agile has become a proven approach to nimble execution for executives and senior managers, and is also one of the most popular and effective project and change management methodologies. It may be one of the most over-used terms in business today – along with Transformation – and gets a mention in every executive strategy, and forms prominently in the internal vocabulary across almost every organisation.

Leaders and executives want their organisations to ‘be Agile’ and to ‘work Agile’.

For organisations to ‘be Agile’ and to work in an agile way, they require a culture of agility. 

Creating a culture of agility requires the changing of attitudes, behaviours, and habits of those within an organisation. These changes need to be underpinned by the improvement or re-engineering of business process across the entire organisation, creating a quicker and more responsive way of working and an environment that enables the acceleration of strategy.

Keys to building an Agile culture:

  • Shifting the focus onto measuring ‘leading’ rather than ‘lagging’ indicators of success – Determining what the leading indicators of success are and reporting on those in a pro-active and visible way allows the organisation to be adaptive, to adjust and change outcomes.
  • Framework that provides visibility, transparency and accountability across the enterprise – Having a framework is necessary to provide visibility, drive accountability and track results. For example; formalising the structure into an Enterprise Program Management Office or Transformation Office creates transparency and enables the organisation to prioritise investments and resources as well as facilitate fact-based decision making faster and with more accuracy.
  • Ideas generation – Implement a pipeline of business improvement ideas, and ensure this pipeline is always building and being maintained and that a robust process is in place to prioritise and select the ideas for execution depending on the organisation’s environment and market position at that time.
  • Speed to value – All the effort must translate into improved business performance. This can be dependent on the system of measurement that has been agreed and implemented top-down. For example; organisational financial performance, operational performance, customer satisfaction, etc.  This also must work both ways in that if initiatives are not providing value (not working) then the concept of agility becomes important in shutting down these initiatives and starting new ones based on the ideas pipeline above.
  • Visual and interactive tools to engage teams, facilitate decision making and maintain momentum – The use of visual tools as well as personal and verbal interaction allows for rapid decision making and sharing of information. There are different ways that visual tools can be integrated into the framework above.
  • Strategic approach to change management – A more strategic approach to change management looks at change across the enterprise and clarifies specific desired behaviours and provides ‘enablers’ to support these to occur. For example; success can be attributed to communicating the ‘why’ very clearly and with a strong support system in place everyone is more likely to commit to the change journey.