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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

3 Questions To Help CEOs Screen Decisions

In my previous post earlier this year, How To Improve CEO-Level Decision Making, I mentioned the development of frameworks to simplify and clarify information to help with decision making. I also made a point of helping the organization embrace these frameworks helps the CEO with busting down the complexity of the information and decreases the risk of making a poor decision.

In this article today, I am going to put forth an example of such a framework to give you, the reader a starting point of thinking about how you might accomplish this for yourself and your team. Besides helping you in the already mentioned ways, it helps your team know what basic information they need to supply while also developing a consistency of approaching problems in the same way. That is not to say that unique roadblocks and situations do not present themselves from time to time which may need a different approach. What I am saying is that more difficult and complex situations should become the exceptional occurrence and not the normal occurrence.

Another powerful benefit of developing a simple decision framework is once they are embraced by your reports (and on down the line), CEOs can take a step back from the majority of decisions that should be made by their reports and in turn, by their reports. This is true of the many CEOs I work with and see. No matter what size or type of business, they become experts at information management and decision making. As problems and decisions come across their desk, e-mail, and smart phone, they know how to categorize them, which need more input, which they should make a call on now, and which should be kicked back for someone else to handle.

The tactic we are outlining today for CEOs to use from their tool belt is to screen decisions to make sure they can identify which decisions if wrongly called could really hurt the business. Under the day-to-day pressures many CEOs function on, it's often quite hard for any person to allocate the time to step back and frame-up each decision using different criteria every single time. Not only does this create inconsistency on the risk management side of things, it often confuses the reports about which information is needed for each decision call. Considering the number of issues crossing the CEO's purview, if every problem carries an equal weight of importance, then so do the decisions. This can create overload. While the approach to the decision can be similar, not all decisions are made equally as far as risk potential, there are "no-brainers", "hardly serious", "FYI", "business cripplers" and "business-killers" all coming in at the same rate of speed. It's important for the CEO to put them in the correct category file as they are evaluated.

Here is a 3-question framework as an example of designing something which would work well for each executive's situation:

Does this decision need to be made now, or can we wait a week, or a month without causing serious damage?

As I mentioned, not all decisions require immediate attention, consideration, or action. This is not an excuse for putting things off, it is a way to manage one's self to address things in their proper category. Remember, others are going to feed you what you ask for, they are not going to manage you for you. It's up to you to manage yourself. Also, remember every decision your reports submit is most important to them. The question is what importance it should have to the organization and to you and your schedule and time. Everyone has the same amount of time in a day, how you manage yourself against those available hours is something you need to master. Another question inside this question is, what does it cost us to wait on this? How important is this decision to our shared goals and priorities this year & the next 3 years? Having an understanding of the levers which control your business & having a clear vision about what matters most allows CEOs to figure out the correct timing for each call they have to make.

Will waiting bring some additional clarity & vital information to help make the call?

Is there a tangible benefit to waiting on this? If it is possible that more information is available & could make a difference in the outcome, it may be worth delaying the call. On the other hand, it is usually very unlikely you will know more in 3 months or 6 months, so what is the benefit of continuing to analyze?

Could this decision make itself?

I have seen many instances in which time does solve a particular situation. It is rare but does happen. I suggest you proceed with caution on this one, as this is very much an exception rather than the rule. This can trap many CEOs, mostly new ones, as they have not yet adjusted to the change required when ascending to the altitude of the CEO position.

An additional thought I could offer here is also that just because you are the CEO does not mean every decision has to be yours. Often new CEOs think everything (and I mean everything) has to run through them. This is not true, and you learn with experience you can find yourself straying into decisions and providing input on items you don't really need to be involved in. If you can handle it with finesse & skill, sometimes kicking decisions back to your reports can communicate your trust and belief in them. Also, sometimes decisions are better made by people who are closest to the action and process.

Last key thought for you. The really good CEOs come to find that your job is to decide on the WHAT by knowing the WHY. It's better to empower your reports to decide the HOW and the WHEN.

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