Remember when a "team meeting" was a ride up in the elevator? Those days when you could bump into a colleague in the lobby, discuss an issue and make a decision about it before the doors opened on your floor?
OK, so maybe you never had an elevator (or a lobby), but I'll bet you can recall a time when decision-making seemed simple. When, even more importantly, the execution of those decisions was swift, effective and efficient.
Now, things have changed. Now, it feels like decisions take forever to make and that you're sitting in endless meetings, incessantly circling the drain. It seems like you're having the same discussion over and over, and what's worse, even when you do finally make a decision, it's a crap shoot as to whether or not it'll get implemented.
There are a lot of reasons why growing businesses hit this wall of ineffective and inefficient decision-making, mostly having to do with increased complexity. However, the two main things to be aware of are, first, that you're not alone (this is a stage of growth every business goes through -- a stage we call Whitewater), and secondly, that it's imperative you push through this perilous stage quickly and regain your sure-footedness.
Here are the three vital steps that will help you do that.
1. Recognize that anecdote isn't data.
In a small business, anecdote is a fair proxy for data. Whatever you experience is usually a reasonable reflection of how things are. Hear two complaints about one of your products? There's likely a real quality issue there. Wince when you hear one of your sales team on the phone with a customer? You probably need to give some remedial training.
As your business grows, however, and the environment becomes more complex, anecdote loses its affinity with data. It becomes just that -- anecdotal. The fact that your sales manager heard two complaints this month no longer necessarily means that you have a quality issue -- you'll need to gather actual data to find that out.
So it is with every non-trivial decision you now face -- you need to take time to gather actual data, or you'll make bad decisions based on incomplete information.
Related: 4 Ways to Limit Your Decision-Making
2. Begin practicing team-based decision-making.
Just as anecdote is no longer a proxy for data in our more complex business, it is now equally unlikely that any one person has all the information needed to make high-quality decisions.
Put a process around making non-trivial decisions; gather the people with the necessary knowledge, authority and influence; debate the underlying data, then decide -- or defer a decision if you don't have the information you need.
Data, debate, decide or defer -- that's the rhythm of high-quality team-based decision-making.
3. Plan in accountability.
Previously, making a decision and implementing it were intimately connected. If you made a decision in the morning, chances were it was halfway to completion by the afternoon. Now, that's less likely to happen. Now, every day is like New Year's Day -- full of great resolutions that may or may not get implemented.
To fix this, it's necessary to give implementation as much attention as you do to actually making the decision. As soon as a decision is made, list out the immediate next actions that need to happen, who will do them and by when. Set a time to reconvene and check that what people say they will do has actually happened, then rinse and repeat.
Managing a growing business is hard enough, so don't make it harder than it should be. You wouldn't get far trying to parent your teenage kids with the same parenting tools you used when they were babies -- so don't try to manage your newly complex business with the same decision-making tools you used when it was small.
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