How to run a decision meeting

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Most people think when they are calling a meeting that the “decision” meeting is the meeting they are calling. But they don’t set the meeting up the right way, don’t clarify what the decision is that needs to be made, and let the meeting go off into rabbit hole after rabbit hole. The net result? No decision is made. About anything except the need to have another meeting to make a decision.

What’s needed for a great decision meeting?

Stever Robbins notes in Preparing for Decision-Making Meetings that there are really three hidden conversations going on at once — all with the ability to subvert the meeting:

Every decision-making conversation has three hidden conversations lurking just out of sight. One is about what we’re trying to accomplish by even bothering to make a decision. After all, we could just let things fall where they may. The second conversation is about the criteria we’ll use to make the decision. The last conversation is about finding and choosing between different options.

Thus, the decision meeting isn’t just about making a decision. Instead, it is a review of why the decision is important and ties to objectives, the effort that was done to come to the options for the decision, and, now, to make the decision.

Here’s what to do.

Complete normal operational criteria to support the decision

At higher levels, companies have already established figuring out what they want to accomplish through the establishment of goals and objectives for the company or department. Even higher levels tie into strategy (we will diversify our business by expanding into X area by buying companies in that area…).

In addition, the company will most likely have “rules” about what it takes to approve the expenditure of money on some project. For some, it is Return on Investment, others Present Value of Money, and others some combination of factors and metrics that are worked to improve the business.

In other words, companies have often codified what is required for the first two of the three conversations Stever talks about in the preparing for a decision meeting article. What needs to happen here is the formal process gets worked with the appropriate analysis placed into the appropriate forms that all the other decision meetings follow.

At a department level, though, it may not be so obvious or so formal. If you are looking for a decision on changing the business process for something in your department, all that codified formal stuff isn’t there. In this case, it is important to define the objective for the decision (this process change is to help us meet our goal of reducing cycle time by one day). It is important to define the criteria for the decision (the criteria we used for looking at options consisted of only changing measurable process steps to determine if we could hit our goal, a pilot had to take place trying the new process, and our changes could not cost more than X-amount of dollars…).

These two items need to be reviewed in the decision meeting so that everyone gets on the same page for the objective and criteria used for determining options.

The information must socialized with the decision-makers before the decision meeting takes place

People fail this step all the time and it dooms them to a failed decision making meeting.

Now, the intent here is not to have everyone unanimously agree with whatever option you are proposing as the solution. No, this is to ensure:

  • everyone understands the objective for doing this initiative
  • everyone understands the criteria for making the decision
  • everyone is comfortable with how your information was derived (we agree on the facts)
  • Only then can you get around to asking the opinion of how that person leans in deciding what option is best

Look, a lot of time is needed for this work — and it takes longer with more people making the decision. Plus, you cannot count on only one go-around with the socialization. A great worker will understand that there will be questions that need answering, more information that needs gathering, and clearer presentation needed to get a point across. That takes time and effort.

If you expect to socialize your work one day before the decision meeting, you’ve already lost the ability to make the decision.

Leave half the time for discussion and questions

If you think your presentation will take a full hour to present, schedule two hours for the meeting. I don’t want you to think that this should necessarily be a casual meeting in terms of time. But the worst thing that can happen is under schedule the time needed. There is nothing worse than calling a one hour meeting and getting through half of your stuff — you know, the actual options for the decision aren’t even out there yet — and your time is up. Never let these get down to the wire like Chopped where you run out of time before all the ingredients are on the plate.

The importance of the decision meeting win

Under appreciated is what happens to momentum when a decision meeting fails to make a decision. Initiative stops. Time and resources, expecting a go-ahead, now have to be rescheduled if not obtained again. It starts out the change with a defeat and that hurts whatever decision is eventually made.

Prepare right and present right. It’s your best chance for a win.

What else is needed for a great decision-meeting?

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