• Kim F Vaughan

Caught in a trap!

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

No, it's not karaoke, and Elvis is not singing Suspicious Minds on a YouTube loop ...... this time, I've been caught in a behavioural trap of my own making. Normally I am an advocate of good decision making but last weekend I walked right into the trap without even touching the sides.

Did any of you wake up on Saturday morning, see the beautiful sunshine outdoors, and think "Let's have breakfast outdoors! Spring is here, the sky is blue, the birds are singing, there are daffodils everywhere and we have a new picnic table just arrived! Let's celebrate the end of winter and start to enjoy the great outdoors again!" The first bumble bee flying around the crocuses clearly agreed.

There are some ground rules for making good decisions that I have spent many a long hour sharing with teams and individuals. As a coach, it is often up to me to ask the questions that help people save a lot of time by avoiding making decisions that don't achieve the right outcomes, have to be remade over and over again, or are simply not supported and acted on by the team.

1. Do you know what the decision is for?

On Saturday, I decided that winter was over so we should immediately go out into the sunshine and declare Spring. What would be the best way to celebrate this great event?By having breakfast outdoors, of course! We would feel so good!

2. Is this decision the right one to achieve the goal?

There is no argument about enjoying breakfast in the sunshine making you feel good. We see all the confirming information in the holiday adverts, where happy people munch croissants, and drink orange juice and coffee on the terrace of a lovely hotel. The fact that they are in a Mediterranean environment in July seems irrelevant.

Only minutes before I made my pronouncement, there was a deep frost clearly visible through the bedroom window. But I paid no heed to all that disconfirming information, too busy imagining our happy faces!

3. Who should be making the decision?

It's important that only one person is responsible for making a decision. We know that decisions made by committee don't lead to communal ownership but, in reality, mean that nobody feels accountable and the belief that 'somebody else' will do the work. This tends to make the decision fail to deliver the desired outcomes. But it has to be confirmed with all interested parties that 'X' is the decision maker, because they are closest to the impact and delivery of the decision.

On Saturday, no such confirmation took place.

4. Who should be providing information and ideas about the decision?

Do you have all the right people in the room? Are all the aspects of the decision covered? Do you have enough diversity of thought and knowledge available to you? Are all those who will feel the impact of the decision represented? It's important that everyone involved has their voices heard and that you have looked at the issue from all angles in case there is a better solution to be found. If you expect everyone to follow the decision, you don't want any simmering resentments getting in the way.

Since my husband was barely awake and my cat concerned with arranging her cushion, I felt I had all the input I required. I wanted it enough for all of us.

5. Do you have all the data you need to make the decision?

We are very good at looking for facts that support and confirm what we want to do. We also like to make assumptions, which are hardly ever based on facts. Add to that the avoidance of conflict and challenge to our ideas, and our risk assessment will fall far short.

Oh come on! You can see the sunshine, the blue sky, the flowers ....... If only I had paid attention to the way the cat had recoiled from the open kitchen door as the icy air blew in.

6. Have you considered all the options and explored all the ideas?

This is related closely to previous sections, but really makes sure that you are considering other ways of looking at things, trying out innovations and opening up minds to the 'What if .....?' questions. If you have someone new to the team, they may have a wealth of experience to offer to break up habitual thought processes.

In my case, I can honestly answer 'No' to this question.

7. Is everyone on board, clear on the actions and ready to act?

The best way to make a decision work requires clear agreement to support the decision, understanding of the actions to be taken, and consistent communication of the decision to the right people, by the right people.

Apart from yelling at my husband to get out of bed and present himself outdoors as soon as possible, I had done none of that.

8. How will you know if the decision was the right one?

Now, here's the crunch. Many high-risk decisions are made without 100% confidence in the outcome. That's why they are difficult and undesirable. It's also why CEOs are paid such a lot of money.

Sensible decision makers will agree with their teams some signals of success or failure that would trigger reconsideration and fine tuning. We have seen a lot of that recently with COVID-19 management - if the infection rate increases, we will need to lock down; if hospitalisations reduce, we may consider sending the children back to school; if everyone is vaccinated, we may be able to reduce restrictions altogether.

My unilateral decision had been the only option on my table and alternatives were not to be admitted. I wanted winter over and breakfasting outdoors was the only way to prove it!

9. How will you manage new information that may affect the decision?

Successful decision makers continue to scan the horizon for imminent threats or opportunities to boost outcomes and agree when and how to review high stakes decisions to maintain a positive track.

Smaller decisions may not need such intense scrutiny, but I have to admit that after twenty minutes sitting outdoors in February, on a patio that doesn't get any direct sun until April, I acknowledged that my decision to breakfast outdoors had not been the best.

The first review took place when shivering uncontrollably and resulted in layering up with Arctic gear.

The second review was prompted when the slow seepage of damp from the over-wintered bench broke through the seats of our jeans. This one took us indoors for remedial action on practising what I preach about good decision making and avoiding the trap of 'do as I say, not as I do'.

On the positive side, I have seen (and photographed) the first bumble bee of spring. The crocuses and daffodils are out and now it is March, with the vernal equinox nearly upon us. Summer is nearly here, folks - at least in the northern hemisphere. Here's to sunny days and successful decision making!

Give me a call on +44 7391 668526 if you want to find out more about breakfasting outdoors or how I can help you with your decision making.

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