April 2, 2020
by: Sheela Nimishakavi
As a nonprofit boss, you’re having to make decisions every single day, and you might feel like whichever choice you make is not a good one because your options are not good. For instance, right now you might be faced with deciding whether you should lay off staff or keep them on board? Should you fundraise or wait it out? These either-or choices essentially present you with a lose-lose situation.
But what if we don’t accept that we have to make that either-or choice. What if we decide that we want the benefits of both ends of the spectrum? Our challenge then becomes figuring out a creative solution allowing us to flip a lose-lose situation to a win-win situation.
Before we can get into steps on improving decision-making, though, first we need to get on the same page about what a good decision means. Decisions are usually analyzed in hindsight. We don’t determine whether a decision was good or bad until we have the outcomes of that decision in hand.
Often times when we think about making a good decision, what we’re really talking about is a good outcome. But you can’t control the outcome. Even if you make all the right choices, you can end up with a bad outcome. So, when I talk about making a good decision, what I’m really talking about is determining what outcome you desire and using decision making as a tool to increase the probability of getting that outcome. You can do that in four steps.
Test your assumptions
The first step in this is to test your assumptions. When options are presented to us in an either-or format, those two options were brought to the forefront based on some assumptions. Take a step back and first ask yourself, do I really need to make this decision? Are the options we are weighing based on fact?
Determine Decision-Making Group
There are many well-documented problems with group decision-making, so ideally you’ll limit how many people are involved in the process. Even though we might think that two heads are better than one, the research actually shows that rather than compensating for each others’ failures, groups actually amplify them.
Groups also are susceptible to what’s called the cascade effect which is essentially a situation in which group members simply follow the lead of the person who spoke or acted first. This is especially true when the leader of a group is the first to offer their opinion.
Before making any kind of decision, you want to make sure that only the people who absolutely need to be involved are asked to participate in the decision-making process. And you want to make sure that the team you assemble has the right qualities. Research done by the Good Judgment Project indicates that when teams make decisions, groups that are cautious, humble, open-minded, and analytical tend to be best.
Align your decision with specific outcomes and probabilities
The main issue with decision making is that you have to choose one option and the implication is that once you make that choice, you forego the benefits of the other options. This is where so many of us get hung up with decision making. We’d love to have the best of both worlds but oftentimes it doesn’t seem possible. Instead, we’re often left unsatisfied with our options and chose the one that is the “least worst.”
But, if we can look at both ends of the spectrum and brainstorm the benefits of each, we can begin to come up with creative solutions that increase the probability of a win-win scenario.
As you’re going through this, think about your answer to the questions- what is the outcome you desire most? Are either of these options correlated with a 100% probability of that desired outcome or as close to 100% as possible?
The problem that I see with decision making is that bosses feel constrained in the number of options they have available to them, and will do what is called satisficing which is essentially choosing the least worst option. That is not good decision making- that’s just making the best of a bad scenario.
The solution to this is to get creative. Consider other decisions that could bring you to your desired outcome and keep considering your options until you land on one that gets you to that desired outcome.
Short-term vs long-term outcomes
Finally let’s talk a bit about short term vs long term decision-making. Most of the time, when bosses make decisions, they think in the short term. It’s not your fault- there is pressure coming down on you from all angles, so at the time, it seems that the best decision is the one that will relieve that pressure immediately.
The problem with this is that it often creates problems in the future and results in new decisions that need to be made.
When you’re considering the different outcomes, push beyond thinking about the short-term, immediate outcomes and think about how your decision will create downstream effects to be seen in six months, one year, or even five years. It may not change the decision that you make today, but it will prepare you for the outcomes to come down the road.
Decision making is one of the toughest jobs that nonprofit bosses have. If you feel like you’re stuck between two options and you have to settle for the one that is the least worst, it’s time to flip the process around.
Test your assumption, get a group of the right people involved in the decision-making process, weigh the outcomes, and get creative. Further, consider both the short-term and the long-term effects of your decision.
While you can’t control the outcome, you can ensure that you utilize a decision-making process that increases the probability of ending up with your desired outcome.
What works for you when it comes to decision making? Where do you struggle with making decisions? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation by signing up for our free, private Facebook group. Click here to join today!