Saturday, 14 March 2009

Tips for making decisions in change programs

In Everett Rogers’ seminal work, “The Diffusion of Innovations” there is some very interesting suggestions on the importance on the decision making process as part of the innovation adoption dynamic. This decision-making focus is often left out of references to his work though I have always found it helpful when I am working with others to implement large scale changes in complex systems as well as the adoption of known best practices into more simple structures.

Rogers points out that the action of decision-making is the point of action in adopting a new idea. Others may try to persuade me, though nothing will matter until I have made a decision to adopt. You cannot make that decision for me. With this in mind, one of the most helpful questions I know to ask when encouraging the adoption of a new idea is “How can I help you make the decision?” This is starting with the premise that they are not forced into adopting the solution and I am open to helping in whatever way might be useful.

Rogers never got into the complexity of the decision-making process. One of the texts I find useful is “Crucial Conversations; Tools for Talking when the stakes are high” by Kett Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swtitzler. They highlight four of the most common methods for making decisions and give ideas on how best to work with each.

Command; defined as a process where there is no involvement of others. This may also be a preference of some people who would prefer not to have to make a decision (or be responsible / accountable for making it).

Consult: is when you ask for input before making your choice. The essence is leaders still make the final decision, though with the ideas, opinions and views of others in mind.

Vote: work when everyone involved agrees to continue to support the final decision, even if they voted the other way. This works when there are a number of options.

Consensus; can be frustrating and time wasting unless carried out properly and with a focused intent. The authors suggest this option should only be used where the issue is high stake, complex and where everyone must absolutely support the choice.

So what has decision-making got to do with the spread of good practice and other large scale improvements?

In my experience, complex change programmes can feel very overwhelming. We spend a huge amount of time planning, working out what we want to get out of it and then how we might go about it. All programmes and especially the complex ones need a whole heap of decisions to be made before we even get to action, and then all those impacted by the change have their own decision making process to go through when the implementation starts. The problem for changes that are large in scale is the amount of detail, levels and complexity involved. The decision-making tactics need to reflect this.

So I use the following list as a diagnostic for the decision-making processes in a spread and large scale change programme. These can be used at the programme team level or the adopting team level.

1. For the programme itself, so we know what the meta decision-making process is (vote, consensus etc)? Have we agreed which issues need what type of decision process?

2. What is the key decision that needs to be taken in order for this new idea / change to be implemented in the workplace? Is this decision different for different people?

3. Who cares about the decision? If anyone cares about it yet they do not have to change their behaviour as part of the implementation process, how might we have a decision-making process that reflects this?

4. Who has to agree to the decision in order for us to gain benefits from the implementation? How does this affect our choice of the type of decision-making process we use as part of getting our work implemented.

How will you make your next decision?

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