High Velocity Decision Making

August 21, 2020

I’ve previously written about the need for accountability and the goal of pushing decisions throughout an organization to the appropriate owners.  But just making decisions isn’t the end game; you need sound decisions made in a timely manner.  The velocity of good decision making is fundamental to your business’s ability to survive and thrive.

High Velocity Decision Making

Your team members are collectively making dozens and hundreds of decisions each day.  With new business normals being transformed right before our eyes, it’s critical to not let good decision-making stall out.  Here are some key learnings from 30+ years of trying to improve the velocity and soundness of many different kinds of business decisions.

Grow your situational awareness.  

You can’t improve the velocity of informed decisions if you aren’t aware of the different perspectives and varying impacts of a potential decision.  Should we raise prices 5% this year?  By being situationally aware of the viewpoints of - and impacts to- 

  • Sales, 
  • Product Management, 
  • Finance, etc., 

You can jump right into pre-selling the idea or addressing specific concerns more quickly.  If, on the other hand, you have no idea how other departments will react to a 5% price increase, the timeliness of the decision is at risk because now you have to solicit feedback from scratch.  Solid, wide-spread working relationships are the key to making this work.  By being aware of what others think and the kinds of obstacles they face, you can massage your potential decisions in a way that enables them to be adopted faster.  

Let’s try a different decision: The IT department wants to exchange the card-swipe time clocks with new ones that have biometric log-in technology.  What kind of situational awareness is required in order to make an informed, high-velocity decision on this?  I was actually part of this one.  Due to my positive connections with the non-exempt departments, I knew this proposal would go over like a lead balloon, but I tried to float it with the troops anyway.  As expected, the feedback was consistently thumbs-down for a number of legitimate reasons.  I received this feedback immediately because I had good relationships with the affected teams, and that allowed for a quick decision to devise a different solution and move on.

Demand information, not data.  

At one point in my career, I had a business analyst on my team who did a great job of digging into databases and ERP systems to uncover multitudes of improvement opportunities.  When he would present his findings to me, it usually took the form of very large spreadsheets with very tiny numbers.  I would predictably halt the discussion and send him back to the drawing board.  

Why?  Because even though I know how to create pivot tables and graphs, what I wanted to see instead were trends, classifications, deviations from target, etc.  I wanted something I could take action on; in other words, I wanted decisionable information.  How often do you find yourself – or how often do you see your team members – reformatting data in order to get something useful out of it?  If this is happening, then the velocity – and the soundness - of your organization’s decision-making is less than it could be.  Push it back and demand decisionable information.

Climb down from the tree.  

Remember the tree model of decision making?   Leaf and branch decisions should be pushed down as far as possible into the organization.  How often are you getting involved in deciding what restaurant to order from for that upcoming lunch meeting?  

A trickier one: your production supervisor wants to change the flow of his production line and has invited you to a planning meeting.  Do you spend 60-90 minutes involved in planning details, or do you just want to see the future-state plan and projected efficiency improvements?  

The answer depends on your specific role in your organization, but most readers of this article are senior ops professionals who need to be focused on trunk or root decisions.  You can tell your supervisor that while you appreciate being invited to the meeting, you will support whatever plan he develops.  This kind of approach yields a “two-fer:” you get to push a branch decision to the appropriate level in the organization, and your supervisor learns to make and implement decisions without needing to use you as a crutch.

By focusing your organization on high velocity, good decision making, you will be positioning your company to improve its performance regardless of the chaos and uncertainty going on around you.


Wayne Olson

Wayne is a global manufacturing executive with 30+ years of experience in high technology business unit and operational leadership roles. He has extensive background in the semiconductor industry, capital equipment products, and engineered solutions. Along his career journey, he has made – and hopefully learned from – many mistakes. By sharing his lessons in leadership development, continuous improvement, and business competitiveness, Wayne is hopeful that readers will pick up a few nuggets they can add to their own personal development toolkits. Wayne resides in the Twin Cities and holds a BS-Chemical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.

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