Decision Making Craftsmanship

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1 CHRONOLOGICAL PROCESS STRUCTURE

When I first worked for a large corporation, we were sent on various training days by an enlightened management. One of those days was about making decisions. What I remember was the simple mnemonic, the four Cs: consider, consult, crunch and communicate. They were the four stages of taking a decision.

Consider means think before you decide. Consult means talk together with people before you decide. Crunch means make the choice and communicate means work with other people to make the decision work.

I would now add a few more Cs that are perhaps a little more subtle: champion, cooperate and change.

Champion means owning a decision and assuming stewardship (perhaps with others) for it before during and after making a choice. Consider and consult, properly applied amount to coming with heart and mind prepared to the point of choice. Crunch is the point where and when the choice is made. Communicate and change are the post-choice activities where the consequences of the choice are played out, hopefully with care, concern and compassion.

It is convenient to talk about the six phases as a chronological process. In reality, they overlap and share time and methods. It’s more a case of ‘Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite’em. Little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum’. The key is to match the effort, intensity and formality with the level, importance and difficulty of the decision.

Spelled out in black-and-white at prosy length, decision making appears daunting and impossible. My experience is that as one embraces each decision as best one can and does better next time, the approach becomes easier and less onerous. Eventually, so I aspire, it becomes automatic, part of ones being and part of one’s way of Quakerly life, in business and elsewhere.

It’s Like dancing: waltzing in circles through the process. Lots of effort in learning and practicing the steps and stylish flicks. Performing with spirit and energy the mood and story of the dance. Cooperating with your partner and the orchestra to give pleasure to yourself, and others. Set examples and patterns to others to emulate or compete with. Crank the economic engine one more time for dancing schools, TV presenters, costume makers and musicians.

2 CHAMPION

The first step is to champion the decision.

By champion I do not mean the David-and-Goliath warrior champion or the Manchester United sporting or athletic champion. Do not confuse championship with a strong or forceful personality or with weightiness in Quaker circles. Nor has it anything to do with authority, political power or social machismo.

The champion cares about the decision or perhaps more pedantically the consequences of the decision. The Quaker champion has a Quakerly concern and has the commitment to see the decision through to full implementation. The champion is also the one to say ‘Oops! I made a mistake.’ Or ‘This isn’t working. I need to do something different’.

Since decision making is a process, championship means expending time, energy thought and feeling. The payback is making the world a better place and spiritual growth through tribulation. The second characteristic is commitment, not just for now but for the duration, until the consequences of the decision are implemented or it is right to lay the matter down.

In my experience on professional projects as well as in personal life championship in practice is often as much about stopping things from falling apart, making an observation at a critical moment that turns a direction or creates an insight, as it is about leadership, political persuasion or management control.

Championship is not for everyone on every issue – if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Of necessity, I champion the decisions of my own life and of my business but I am more selective of the Meeting decisions that I champion and even more selective of the political decisions. There are decisions that I champion, decisions in which I join with others to champion and decisions that (so long as I have no practical or moral concern) I am content to leave to others.

Choosing what to champion calls for discernment of importance (value) of the situation. Not everything is equally important on a global scale or on a personal scale. What is important for my business right now might not be so important tomorrow. What is controllable (alone or through others) and what is not, what are the critical concerns and issues especially the moral and practical matters.

Championship is being open to opportunity at each and every step in the process. Recognising he opportunity, and taking advantage or it.

Another part of the champion’s role is to be constructively critical at each and every stage. Everyone can find something wrong, something less than perfect, but it takes a further order of criticism to find and suggest how an improvement might be achieved. The champion should apply an appropriate quality and effectiveness standard, assess information or work against it and suggest ways of doing better.

It is important to remember that only part of a decision is approached rationally with legal evidence and scientific fact. What seems to me to happen in most real life situations is that the champion builds a picture of all the relevant aspects of the situation, the options and their consequences. Emotional, policy, aesthetic, financial, moral and other values grow with the picture so that the preferred choice admits outcome emerge like the picture in a photographer’s developing tank. The trick for the champion is to make sure that the picture is complete, well composed and balanced, shedding light clearly and honestly.

3 CONSIDER

I am blest with an analytical mind and I enjoy analysing, investigating, and exploring almost any question. So this stage of the process is always fun for me, but I can get carried away t over analysis, over investigation and get lost in a study. I observe that most people are overwhelmed, depressed and frightened by having to think very hard.

Consider what and who is involved with the decision. Consider what you want and what is right, consider the consequences of the decision, consider safety, security, cost and resources. In short think what you are doing – before you do it. This means brain-ache. It’s painful and to many people it’s frightening. This stage is also dominated by analysis and rational analysis.

In this stage one needs to distinguish between evidence, facts, opinion (whether informed or not) received wisdom, authority, and experience. These distinctions are recognised in law and are becoming used in the medical literature. This is not academic pedantry. One should interpret evidence differently from opinion. One can rely on (trust) authority differently from received wisdom. Each type raises different questions and gives different insights of varying qualities.

Areas to consider include: science and engineering background, political, social, humanitarian, economic, ethical and moral consequences of the decision.

Failure to learn the lessons of history condemns one to repeat them.

Form of the brainstorming technique that used to be popular in the boardroom and is still used in creative work. When I begin a project or paper I tend to do what I call a brain-dump of my random thoughts about it and then go on.

Obviously analysis is not enough, but it is necessary. I have been told with justification that my work (at that time) shows no evidence of creativity. I’m not ‘a creative’. The flip-side of analysis, the synthesis of the data that you gather into a coherent picture, is a vital part of decision making. Assembling the wrong picture, an incomplete picture or a misleading picture is not only morally wrong but it leads to wrong decisions and the creation of more problems than it solves.

4 CONSULT

I have enormous difficulty with this stage. I go the unbelievable lengths to avoid seeing people, writing letters, making phone calls, sending emails and even writing papers like this one. I envy the people, perhaps like you, who rush off to talk to someone at every excuse or none. Your ability used with intelligence and caring is an immense bonus. For me and others like me it is a struggle calling for courage and effort but sometimes leading to real spiritual reward.

Over the years of studying people, bringing up a family and running businesses and so on, I find it a helpful ‘working hypothesis’ to think of each person as a football. Footballs get booted about by forces beyond their control and they are made up of parts. They have a definite inside and outside. If you are on the outside you can’t see inside and if you are inside you can’t see outside.

Consult with the people who have a stake in the decision or its consequences – not just the people who are directly affected or just those whose support you need.

Set aside ones own perspectives, values and opinions. This is not to neglect them or to discard them as misleading, but to enrich them and to come closer to Gospel order. It is challenging and difficult to recognise one’s own prejudices, recognise their value and to lay them aside for later consideration.

Listen actively and positively to other people. Be open to new Light. Especially when you think you know the people, their opinions and their prejudices.

Suppressing prejudice and being careful of ones body language are critical and insidious. How you ask a question is as important as what questions you ask.

Seek to confirm your own understanding but allow yourself to explore, understand and appreciate the other person and more difficult their understanding and concerns. You might be surprised by some new insight and you will certainly come away with a richer appreciation of the decision and its options.

Being critical of the information that you accumulate in the consultation process need not be feedback to the people that you consult. You should always be polite and caring, but sometimes gently presenting an alternative view or interpretation can provoke an interesting and useful reaction. When you come to consider what was said in a consultation, try to answer some simple questions for yourself: What was the person or organisation trying to say – their real message? How does your own experience validate that view or fact? What new facts or insight does it hold for you now? What implications for action or decision does it hold? What problems or questions does it raise? In systems analysis and design I found that one of the most useful questions that I could ask was ‘Ideally, what would you like?’. In short develop your interviewing skills.

Rudyard Kipling's friends, who what where when why and how (5W+H), are good friends here too.

5 CRUNCH

Crunch is to take the decision. Having considered and consulted, chose as best you can and select one of the various options before you. Do it, don’t procrastinate.

There are many techniques for this: Churchill, method of listing the advantages and disadvantages; voting (freely or under parliamentary discipline); value-probability analysis; ‘gut-feel’ and of course Meeting for Worship for Business (MfWfB).

The basis upon which we hold our meetings for business—be they committee, monthly, quarterly, or yearly meetings—is that this is God's world, that God has unfinished business for us to do, and that it is possible for us to ascertain God's will for us in this world. The meeting for business is, in essence, the meeting for worship focused upon specific matters, and there well may be significant correlation between the depth and power of the meeting for worship and that of the meeting for business.

Even if Friends are careful to attend meetings for business and to assemble promptly, they may nevertheless fritter away God's opportunity, perhaps because the business has been poorly prepared and presented, or because Friends do not apply themselves promptly and earnestly, or because Friends are self-indulgent, or simply because Friends do not wait upon the Lord.

All the references to the Quaker Business Method and the way that Quakers reach decisions, focus on the point of choice, seeking unit with God’s will through group discernment, the activities of the clerk as servant of the meeting and the behaviour of the participants in the meeting itself. All excellent. The best and most comprehensive description the I have found was prepared by Eden Grace for the World Council of Churches in 2002-4.

Discernment in a Quaker meeting takes time. It is often complained that real-world decisions, particularly commercial decisions, cannot wait for discernment. Often this is not true. Someone is in a hurry to make a decisions – any decision – that might be better made if one waited. In commerce the truly quick decisions are made by individuals (hopefully also with appropriate discernment). Decisions that require team meetings, coordination meetings and board meetings can wait, and can benefit from the seeking God’s guidance.

Quakers are a theocracy, not recognising the authority of human institutions, or human consensus.

Some people, even some Friends, look at the open and participatory aspects of a Friends meeting for business, and conclude it is designed to be democratic. In fact, its intention is not to find what the most people want to do, but to find the will of God for the body that is meeting. Friends decision making is fundamentally theocratic rather than democratic.

Friends' decision making is a matter of spiritual discernment. It is based on a belief that God's will can be perceived by human beings. Furthermore, it assumes that God speaks consistently to all and therefore that all who genuinely seek the will of God can find unity in what it is.

Friends do not vote in their business gatherings. Rather, we seek unity - unity with the will of God for the meeting. Friends understand that the majority of a body may be leaning one way while a minority, perhaps even only one person, may be who has discerned God's will. Friends do not rush business, allowing time for all to grasp what God would have the meeting do. When it seems there is a "sense of the meeting" on an item, the clerk (the presiding officer) formulates that sense in words. If the body gathered concurs that the clerk has correctly formulated the matter, it is recorded in the minutes.

One difficult point to grasp is that unity is not identical with unanimity. While no one's sense of God's leading is to be ignored, it is the unity of the body as a whole with the will of God that is critical. Sometimes a person may not be clear on the course of action but feel the meeting is ready to act, and "stand aside" on the issue. An even more difficult situation is one in which the meeting as a whole is clearly united, but someone stands outside that unity without standing aside. To move forward in such a situation must be done with great trepidation, since it involves a conclusion that the person is not being open to the Spirit on the issue, but there are times when it is done.

6 CHANGE

Making a decision implies a commitment to change: managing it controlling it, supporting individuals and groups through the change process. Faith that the result will be achieved and trusting others to work within their capacity to make the change happen, is an abdication of responsibility and championship. Worse, it is a put-down for other people because it sends the message that you no longer care and perhaps never really cared. Worse still it means that you do nothing, which is the ultimate evil.

Change is difficult – like herding cats, as Warren Bennis observed.

One's initial knee-jerk response to a change is resistance, complaint, objection. One feels attacked, put-upon, disregarded and devalued. ‘We’ve always done it this way so why should we change?’ It is more comfortable to be carried on the tide of tradition, to follow the flow of fashion, to suffer the convenience of conformity, to be buoyed up by the bulwark of bureaucracy and to indulge in the habit of hedonism.

Although Quakerism is an intensely individual religion, it is also rooted in cooperation; it is about mending the world cooperatively. Having chosen an action, a path, a lifestyle, decision making is about making it happen – cooperatively. The options that most Quakers reject include imposing ones decisions on others by violence or the weight of authority (real or usurped), and manipulation by trickery, deceit, bribery or dishonesty. Honest trading of benefits, open persuasion and cooperative experiment are allowable, because they respect that of God in the other person but accept the risk of failure and frustration.

There are whole branches of management devoted to achieving change in an organisation. The field of peacemaking and conflict resolution in which Quakers are so active and successful is focussed on achieving change with dignity and without violent confrontation. But not without constructive criticism or personal example.

There are two parts to cooperatively making it happen that are especially important for decision making: communication and control by which I mean what is usually thought of as supportive supervision.

7 COMMUNICATE

Communicate means tell everyone what your have decided and make the decision work. In consulting you listened and only spoke in order to listen, Now the balance shifts. You know (hopefully) your audience from your consultation and your job now is to speak and to listen in order to transmit your message effectively. Communication is a challenge. Transferring my dream and how to achieve it from inside my football to someone else’s football in such a way that they are motivated, competent and act on it is not trivial nor is it an instant process.

In my experience people want to know what will change, how it will happen how it will affect them and what will be better, for them, after the change.

One important part of making change happen is

1. A practical plan of action

A plan is not a guaranteed mechanism for change. Things will go wrong, things will not work as expected and there may be factors or situations that the plan did not include. Without a plan and a schedule you don’t know what should happen and you don’t know what to do next or what to do to put something right. Plans are not cast in stone You should change them as the situation unfolds and if necessary be open with both victims and stakeholders when things go wrong and need to be put right.

A list of milestones or challenges is a helpful first step but it its not enough to make a practical plan. One also needs to have some idea how the work will be done, who will do it, how long will it really take (as opposed to how long one would like it to take) how will we know that each step has been completed, how will we know when a stage is well done or unsatisfactory? Addressing these questions provides a rich lode of conferences, discussions and cooperative commitment – but this should never become an excuse for delay or procrastination. You don’t have to wait until all the traffic lights are green before your set off home!

2. A willingness to deal with the unwelcome.

I was once staggered to be told by a client not to talk to the team about failure, risks and what could go wrong. In my experience, only when one faces these unpleasantnesses and deals with them can one be confident of achieving the change one wants.

3. Persistence

Giving up at the first set-back, the first hurdle the first upset is not the way to success in any field. Successful sports players when faced with a better opponent raise their game and play just that bit better. I found Andy Murray's career an inspiration for persistence and determination.

4. Enthusiasm.

Your enthusiasm infects others inspires, motivates them and bouys them up. If you don't feel it, act it.

8 CONSEQUENCES

Perhaps it was because I spent a large part of my childhood playing with Meccano and building working models that it is second nature to me to look mechanisms, theories, structures and patterns of behaviour. When you have a mental model of some part of situation or a suggestion for a solution it is easy to play the model and see what results it gives. This is critical in finding flaws I programmes and in foreseeing results – both desirable and undesirable. Not everyone has this gift. The opposite gift of focusing on the past, history and experience is also valuable in learning from their reinterpretation. Unfortunately these two outlooks are often opposed and interfere with each other instead of enhancing each other’s contribution to the decision.

One important consequence of each person’s footballish idiosyncrasy is that given a task each person goes off and does it in their own way and at their own pace. Part of the champion’s job is to keep in touch with each person and provide help, support and guidance as needed. In boardroom and workshop speak this is supervision. Not the formal authoritarian type but the informal supportive care and guidance type.

Supervision means joining supportively with someone while they do a job, observing what they do, how they do it, offering constructive advice, timely guidance, catching small errors before they become mistakes.

Quakers, in my observation, are particularly bad at this. They feel that because each person is a Child of God and entitled to respect and dignity as such, each person should be left alone on trust to do the job to a high standard (which is usually not defined or specified) in the faith that they will perform with the necessary quality and timeliness. When the faith and trust is betrayed, as it often is, we Quakers too often say nothing for fear of giving hurt or offence or forcing an unnecessary confrontation. I find that I often need to remind myself making omelettes means breaking eggs. The recent report Vulnerable Victim?” by The Stewardship Committee is a graphic and harrowing illustration of trust breaking down, and the lessons that should be learned from it in the Quaker administration.

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