Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (previous President respective vice President for Google) present all kinds of interesting thoughts and firm beliefs on leadership, culture, recruitment, communication, meetings in their book “How Google Works”. When it comes to decision-making, the authors have a few tips to presidents, CEO’s, managing directors and other leaders:
Make few decisions
A lot of new CEOs tend to want to make a lot of decisions; to make a mark or make sure they’re remembered for firmness and stamina.
As a leader you ought to know which decisions – and decision processes – to focus on. Instead of spending your time making hundreds of decisions, put your ego aside and be sure to know which decisions it is key that you make.
Leave the rest to your co-workers. Smart leaders know which decision processes to get involved in, and which not to.
Set a deadline
Don’t give yourself too much time for making a decision. Define a specific period for argumentation, investigation, data gathering and so on, but don’t let it go on forever. At some point, sooner or later, you must make a decision.
Be happy about conflicts
Consensus, according to the authors, is not at all about everyone having the same opinion or finding the same neutral point of view. Instead, it is all about finding the best solution for the company. “The right decision is the best decision, not the one that everybody agrees on.”
Quoting General Patton, “If everybody thinks the same, then someone is not thinking”, the authors instead cherish conflicts. Battles are vital, because they lead to opinions being expressed, arguments viewed, perspectives investigated.
Let people express themselves
Since clever people think, they ought to have opinions and ideas. Ideas should be aired. At Google, an open debate climate is key. It leads to all alternatives being discussed and evaluated – and hence to better decisions.
People must disagree to make sure the best decisions are made.
Shut up – and listen
Also, if you happen to be the decision-maker, try to shut up and let everyone else express their opinions first.
Make the process equal
According to the writers, a good decision process is inclusive (includes all stakeholders involved), collaborative (aiming for what is best for the team/group/company), and equal (the stakeholders involved have equal rights to express their opinions and block a decision if needed). And, most of all, good decision process focuses on result.
“Be curious to find the best way, not your way” (authors quoting a source they refer to as Coach Wooden).
Base them on data, data, data
You would expect no less by Googlers. Make decisions based on data. The best data possible, naturally. Facts. “Everything can be quantified”. The American philosopher and author, John Dewey, once said that a “well-expressed problem is almost a solved problem”.
What the authors are saying, is that if you want your stakeholders to take part in the decision process, don’t give them a bunch of words on a PowerPoint slide. Give them data.
Show them facts and let them draw their own conclusions.