Reflections on Decision-Making with the Administrative Management Institute

I’ve just finished my session on decision-making for the Administrative Management Institute conference at Cornell University. To those of you in attendance, thank you for your terrific engagement today. You came ready to be challenged — and to challenge me in return! Our time was brief, and I know you’re all faced with a deluge of information from other sessions. So I want to share with you three key observations from our decision-making model that you can apply directly to your own work. 

Internalize Your Vision of Success
We are exceptionally talented at looking for bad potential outcomes. We’re wired to find fault and risk in our plans. But as you look back at our work today reviewing the Decision-Making Model, the first three steps comprise the most important part of the process of making change: Why?

If we work together to understand why we’re taking on a new initiative, we can then visualize ourselves in the future, looking back as if the successful results of our work are already in place. If you take anything away from our time together today, please take this. There is no better way to motivate individuals and establish team alignment than to create a clear vision of a future in which you’ve already won. 

Reframe Consensus
Remember the classic film The Princess Bride?

Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Such is our relationship with consensus. Over the years, the word has evolved, and now it brings with it such baggage that any process seeking consensus is met with eye-rolls at best. But consensus does not mean what we think it means. While team members shudder that all a consensus leader is looking to do is to make sure that everyone agrees before making a decision, the reality is much different. 

When you’re starting a new project, at your first meeting, reframe the word clearly and concisely. I’m even going to give you a script: 

“In our team meetings, we’re going to be working toward consensus. We will not agree all the time. But for us, consensus means that we are all willing to move together in the same direction, even if that direction is not our personal favorite.”

Reset the expectation around consensus and you’ll go a long way toward streamlining your decision-making process. 

Time is Everything
We accomplished what we needed to accomplish today in about 1/3 of the time I typically allot for these sessions. On the surface, I count that as a big win — we came with concrete objectives, and with focus and determination, we met them. You can do the same with your own work as change leaders. 

But that comes at a cost. Without the time in workshop to reflect and practice the principles we learned today, a much greater weight is placed on you all to do that work individually, at home, at work, and beyond. It’s up to you to study the model, to adapt and align it with your internal processes, and most importantly to practice moving through each step with your own teams, on your own projects. 

Yes, we saved time today. But decision-making is a muscle, and to build it takes focus, practice, and repetition. 

I walked out of our session today feeling great about our work together. I hope you share that feeling, and I’m confident that the decision-making model will support your work in leading change in your own institutions. My deepest thanks to AMI for inviting me to present today. I look forward to our paths crossing again down the road.

— Howard.