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Improve Decision-Making: Collaborate to Execute

January 16, 2013
at 6:00 pm PST

This is the last of a four-part series. The previous posts introduced decision-driven collaborationengagement, and evaluation.

Evolving your organization’s ideas around collaboration is an important element of connecting people and empowering them to work together to make better, more-informed decisions. Cisco IBSG calls this “Decision-Driven Collaboration” and outlines within it three core elements that build upon one another in decision making:

  • Collaborate to Engage: Identify key contributors, solicit input, share ideas.
  • Collaborate to EvaluateShape the matter to be decided, consider viable alternatives.
  • Collaborate to Execute: Make a clear decision, align relevant parties, put it into practice.

Execution is more effective when the context, rationale, success factors, expectations, dependencies, and so forth are transparent to those affected. As the IBSG report outlines, this level of transparency requires that leaders:

  • Make a clear decision and communicate it to those who will execute it
  • Communicate the decision to those people and groups it will affect
  • Identify who will execute different aspects and define expected results
  • Outline and articulate the metrics of success and process of evaluation
  • Identify and document lessons learned, then incorporate improvements

Lack of clarity in defining the decision -- or the communication of that decision -– puts successful execution at risk. Those involved are not working from the same definitions or expecting the same results. These challenges are most common among teams that cross geographies and time zones, but there’s also a major disconnect across roles, with a 22-point difference: 79% of executives believe they are on the same page with their direct reports, only 57% of reports agree. Collaboration tools can prevent this type of miscommunication.

Carlson’s Law: Innovation that happens from the top-down tends to be orderly but dumb. Innovation that happens from the bottom-up tends to be chaotic but smart.—Curtis Carlson, president and CEO of SRI International

Execution and evaluation are close cousins. A significant challenge at this stage is related to measurement. How do decision-makers evaluate the quality of their own decision making? Do they have the data they need? Or honestly, do they care? IBSG found that many executives do not believe that assessing the results of decisions is a priority for their peers and superiors, or they don’t feel that decision makers should be held accountable for producing results.

These findings raise troubling questions. Executives rate themselves highly at making decisions, but their employees don’t always agree. If these same leaders are assessing the results, how can they be sure they’ve succeeded? After all, if you cannot measure success, how do you know if you have attained it?

Collaborate to Execute

Each phase in Decision-Driven Collaboration includes three enablers: people, process, and technology. In the execution phase, these manifest as follows:

Execute through People
Decision-driven collaboration is about transparency. It’s about creating a pervasive understanding of how the organization creates value, empowering everyone to support the decision-making process. Cisco IBSG calls this “invested execution” because those involved have a greater understanding of the how and why behind a decision and feel a measure of ownership. This doesn’t mean everyone automatically agrees and starts a chorus of Kumbaya, but it lowers the risk that someone will dispute the decision offline — where execution often breaks down.

Execute through Process
Execution of a decision requires clarity and accountability:

  • What was the decision?
  • Why was it made?
  • What does success look like?
  • Who will it affect?
  • Who is responsible for specific steps?

Cisco IBSG’s Horizons research found that the success of many decisions cannot be evaluated simply because the results are not measurable. It’s important in this phase to measure the efficacy of execution, as well as the ultimate results of the decision itself:

  • Was it successful?
  • Did it exceed, meet, or fall short of expectations?
  • Have the learnings been documented and shared?

Measurement is important throughout the decision-to-execution lifecycle. You can embed measurement in the execution process by furnishing the people involved with the analytical tools, skills, and data they need to monitor execution and make course corrections. These same capabilities must be applied to assess the wisdom of the decision and the quality of execution to promote clarity and accountability, while providing a basis for organizational learning.

Execute through Technology
Employee-led innovation can and should be linked to how the company engages, evaluates, and executes, so that decision making itself profits from a collective dynamic. Providing employees with the tools required to execute productively means they don’t spend time looking for ways to circumvent barriers.

There is also a wider lesson on the need to marshal this creativity, innovation, and engagement, and then channel it to strategic priorities. Employee-led innovation offers many benefits, not least of which is “invested execution” among workers. At the same time it requires careful governance to ensure consistent quality, security of company assets, and compliance with policies and regulations.

The interdependency of the engage, evaluate, and execute elements becomes especially clear in the final execution of a decision. If you’ve engaged the right people and teams at the initiation of the decision process, you’ll already have the alignment and mindshare from those who will be responsible for putting the results into action.

For the full survey report, download Decision-Driven Collaboration: Insights from Cisco IBSG Horizons Collaboration Research.

Kim

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