Rob Houraghan posts some brilliant LinkedIn content, focusing around the ideas of Thinking Into Results. He is well worth a follow.

One of his recent posts on decision making got me and my colleague Jill Moore thinking about what the concepts (or problems) mean to us and what we have done over the years to consider these in our own lives and careers.

How much of who we are stems from the world around you; your upbringing, your culture, your family. How much of ‘you’ is your own conscious decision to be who you are is a debate that rages on. With the points that Rob poses it is interesting to think how you could try to make a conscious change and where that takes your own personal style and ways of working.

Grab a cup of tea and have a read of what one CIO and one HR Director think about decision-making, its origins in you and what they do to try to make the right decisions every day.

Making decisions is foreign to you because your parents did it for you when you were young.

Rich: Ah those were the days I guess, when decision making was more to do with how to actually achieve your parents plan with perhaps the least possible effort, or maybe that was just me! Seriously it is a good point, decision-making in those early years was hard because children have so little agency. In our house we were nudged to be involved in family decisions and now as a step-parent I feel absolutely duty bound to try to teach decision-making as well as consequences too. In work, making decisions based on the facts and feelings around you is one aspect of brilliant leadership, being done to is not really what we expect as adults or people in professional roles with goals we want to achieve and targets we need to get to.

Jill: its really important, to really reflect on your role as a parent. I think it’s a natural instinct to want to protect your children from everything so not just things that are harmful but also things that could leave them battling that uncomfortable feeling that sadly often comes with self growth! I’m really passionate about making sure my children aren’t scared of making mistakes, learn to make good choices, and know where we make the wrong choice it’s how we respond with honesty and asking for support that means we can overcome things together and they can learn and grow as a result. They are 5 and 3 so right now its mainly choices about hitting one another or stealing one another’s toys, but I want to lay those foundations. In my personal life I have made the biggest choices in my life like getting married, or having children with ease as I had the love and support of my lovely husband and family who challenge, support, champion and trust me so I was less scared of big choices. For me, I think it’s how we create this environment whether as parents or leaders to help create the right atmosphere for individual decision making that’s key.  I think the biggest challenge for me hasn’t been my parents making decisions for me, it’s the environment that they created, not being replicated when you move into make decisions in a business setting. There is something about what we need emotionally to make a decision, and for me, its about having a great support network of people who are trusted advisors, critical friends and cheerleaders who give you the information, challenge and support you need to make a decision.

Rich: As you grow making decisions becomes part of the fabric of life I guess. Being able to weigh up the possible outcomes and decide which route to take is something that evolves within you, I wonder if the stronger skill isn’t the leap of direction but the analysis that goes into deciding which direction to leap in.

You lack the courage to follow through on your decisions.

Jill: this is quite an emotive one for me, in terms of the use of the word ‘courage’. I feel like ‘good decisions’ are ones where you are fully bought into the choice you have made and as you are teaching your kids Rich, following through the consequences. Where I hear someone not having the courage to follow through, I wonder if they truly believe that this is the right decision and one they are committed to executing or not and therefore is it actually a good choice and one they want to make.

Rich: Courage is a strong word, to some degree this is one I think we should challenge. It is not courage to keep following through if you can see a decision you have made is flawed. That flaw could be exposed because of facts that become apparent, a change in the circumstances that occur through ‘cause and effect’ of the decision or simply observable impact on people that you think should be different. I am not suggesting that a flip-flop attitude to decision making is ok but I really do believe it takes a strength of character to admit something is wrong and go in a different direction.

Jill: I totally agree, courage of your conviction is really important and I know personally if I have that belief, I am more committed and sure of myself, but I think there is something really powerful about owning that my experiences, skill or confidence is not static and to have the self-awareness to call out that you may have made the right choice but need help in executing it so have to slow down making a final decision as you cant guarantee impact or end to end delivery. And in calling in some experts, your initial choice may change. I think changing your mind can be really powerful in terms of people knowing you listen and value insight and not creating weakness in refusing to back down when you know it’s the right thing to do, but this has to be distinguished from indecision as you say Rich.

Others easily influence you so you have little or no firm desires of your own.

Rich: Influence or educate? That is the question I would pose here. I want to be influenced if it means I have more insight to make a decision. The key in so many ways for me is that principle of Objectives and Key Results. I think having an objective in mind and the results that will be key to achieving it allows you to both make a decision based on the knowledge around you and to have an end in mind and the change that will achieve when you get there. If we do this then we unlock a new ability in the decision making toolbox, the ability to manoeuvre inside the decision that has been made.

Jill: I think its really important as you say Rich to have an objective in mind, I think without this you can’t really make a decision as you don’t know what it is you are trying to achieve. I think once you have that clear view, it’s about working out if you are firm in ‘how’ you do are achieving something as I like you want to surround myself by people more capable than me, to feed in great ideas and insight and influence my thinking so we can collectively to things in the best way. I see collaboration as a real positive but without a firm desire I think the bigger risk around not making a decision is getting lost on the way and ending up executing a different plan that belongs to someone else in your name. I am really passionate about the importance of owning decisions, and I think its really difficult to own a decision where its not really your own, you aren’t bought in and you aren’t sure why you made it!

Rich: I wonder if self-belief is what feeds the idea of having your own desires, I can pin-point moments in my past career where I have been quite sure of a decision but not always had the self-belief to raise my thought process up one notch and go down a certain route of action. I guess that comes with maturity and again the analysis of what is happening around the decision you are needing to make.

You take a long time to reach decisions and you change them quickly.

Jill: Its quite difficult to say what the optimum timescale is for decision-making. A quick decision can be life saving or it can be knee jerk and overly hasty. A slow decision-making process can be thorough and considered or it can be unambitious and over thought with the input not reflecting the complexity of a decision. I know in my career I have had eureka moments where the penny has dropped with a knotty problem (always when our brains are occupied doing something else, processing the complicated in the background so solutions sneak up on us don’t you find!). I think for me it’s about proportionality. If you invest time in making a decision you should evaluate the speed at which you find an alternative solution and question why is it the change of direction at pace is so appealing.

Rich: Snap decisions, gut reactions and moving with haste all come with negative connotations and yet we applaud quick decision making in sport or on a trading floor. We decry the lack of risk appetite that large organisations show quite frequently in the world we are living in and yet we seek a place where decisions are made against a sound back drop of fact. Is this the perfect definition of a dichotomy in action, or maybe not in action! Theory and practice when it comes to decision making and the speed at which we can do this simply don’t go well together. We can make quick decisions if we have lots of knowledge or skill, hence I guess why sports people are applauded for making the right decisions at pace. For me this as a reason to not make a decision is one I get irritated by. Go and build you knowledge base at pace, find out what others think and apply this to your starting point, make a decision and continually evaluate the impact and if necessary then yes, change your mind. This can be done without risking the entire bank or the whole game!

Jill: we keep coming back to experience and learning how to make decisions don’t we! A footballer makes instant decisions on where to pass the ball but the thought process is so well ingrained they have considered so many things through practice and muscle memory and experience that it becomes skill. I think making quick decisions is a by product of making so many good ones that our ability to consider all the things we need to think about, weigh up risks and benefits and impacts and outcomes can happen so fluently we do it at pace. A bit like driving after a few years vs when you pass your test, it feels so clunky as a new driver whereas experience makes it so natural you forget how actively and consciously  you needed to think about things as a beginner!

You don’t have a strong desire to see your goals become physical reality.

Rich: So, put bluntly you don’t care enough about what you are being asked to decide on, so quite possibly you are not the right person to make the decision. I think to make a decision you need to have ‘skin in the game’ and know what the outcome is you are trying to achieve. A leader simply creating decrees of direction is not someone who will take the team with them, they are perhaps just at the top because of ‘inheritance’ of the position. If its me making a decision then I always feel I need to know what the outcome will be and weigh up the impact. That can often require me to turn my vision of the end in mind to some sort of physical picture that I can describe to those around me who are impacted by the decision I am making.

Jill: I couldn’t agree more. If you aren’t invested why do you think you are right to make the choice as the weight of accountability for your choice should create buy in alone!! If you aren’t following through on owning choice its quite easy as you say to go around decreeing decisions but that’s not the same as making good choices. To go back to courage, I think that’s what’s needed to push back against making a decision you know you cant or wont own- if you don’t have a desire for something to happen this is where you need to own that this isn’t what you want rather than expect something to happen as a by product of you making the decision alone and not actually driving it to become a reality.

In summary…

We really enjoyed reflecting on the article Rob shared so a huge thanks to him for sparking our thinking and allowing us to spend some time reflecting on what it meant for us.

We hope that this has sparked reflections in you as you read with that cup of tea!

Its been really enjoyable for us to spend some time thinking about how we approach a really interesting topic from two different viewpoints in different roles, and with different life experiences and where we align and where we think differently.  We’ve enjoyed this, hope you have too and looking forward to the next collaboration we have planned to think about another topic that hopefully gives us a chance to reflect, debate, learn and appreciate different views.

As always excited to hear what you folks think…