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To Speed Up RAPID® Adoption, Slow Down

Decision making matters. Organizations that make and execute quality decisions achieve revenue and earnings growth more than three times greater than that of their peers, according to Bain & Company research. And their employee happiness score is 27 points higher, on average, than those of other companies.

There are a number of practices that help teams and executives effectively make decisions. Embracing a shared vocabulary around decision roles is one of the most valuable. Bain developed a vocabulary called RAPID that clarifies who among multiple stakeholders should play various roles. Each letter in RAPID represents a role:

  • R stands for “recommend.” This is the person who does 80% of the work. They develop the recommendation.
  • A stands for “agree.” An individual is given an “agree” if their input is needed to ensure that the recommendation meets certain requirements—legal or regulatory mandates, for example.
  • P is for “perform.” These individuals will execute the decision once it is made.
  • I is for “input.” People in this role provide expertise, experience, or information that helps shape the R’s recommendation.
  • Finally comes D for “decide.” This person makes the decision and commits the organization to action. If you’ve ever heard someone ask, “Who has the D?” this is what they are talking about.
RAPID® Decision Making

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When the roles involved in decisions are clearly delineated, teams and organizations make the right choices.

Over many years of coaching clients on how to use RAPID to strengthen their decision-making muscles, we have seen organizations introduce the framework to their teams in a variety of ways.

Many well-intentioned executives assume that a short presentation or a quick reading will be enough for their teams to adopt what seems to be a straightforward approach. But it’s rarely that simple. Through thousands of hours of immersive training on meeting productivity and decision making at Bain Academy℠ , working with companies from all industries and geographies and employees of all types, we’ve seen that those who successfully adopt RAPID do five things differently.

The five “must dos”

1. Break down big decisions into component parts. One of the most common challenges of decision making is confusion about who is accountable for what. Often, this confusion is caused by wrapping multiple decisions into one. Breaking down larger decisions into smaller, more focused ones makes it easier to assign the right people to each RAPID role.

Breaking down a decision may sound easy, but only about half of our training participants find it so. Although it can be time consuming, the results can be game changing. When a global media and entertainment company was struggling to determine who would decide on its digital media strategy, executives separated the question into a series of more specific decisions—i.e., who should decide on the digital media strategy for each channel (for example, online vs. in-store). Once the decision was rearticulated, it became much clearer how to assign decision roles in a way that aligned well with the company’s operating model.

2. Broaden who is trained. RAPID has a lot of clarifying power in cross-functional decision making, but this requires training cohorts who represent a cross-section of the organization. Companies can’t just train one department and then expect decision making to improve.

Consider the experience of a fast-growing logistics company in the Asia-Pacific region that was deploying RAPID for the first time. As a consequence of the company’s fast expansion, new decisions frequently arose, particularly ones that required input from multiple parties. To decide, for example, if a promotion coupon issued in one city could be applied in another, input was required not just from the general manager responsible for the overall profitability of each city’s business but also from the marketing department that issued the coupon and the technology team that would need to change the code so the coupon could work across geographies.

Recognizing the cross-functional nature of these decisions, the company decided to simultaneously train teams from each department in RAPID. This ensured all parties had the same understanding of the key terminology and decision-making practices, which in turn helped them make decisions more quickly, shortening their quarterly marketing campaign strategy meetings from six hours prior to the training to three hours after.    

3. Practice, practice, practice. Effectively deploying RAPID requires a full understanding of all five roles. People often underestimate, for example, the amount of time required to be an effective R (recommend). And those with an R often don’t connect early enough with the A (agree) for their critical input.

To avoid such missteps, it’s smart to begin training with an in-depth overview of the expectations and model behaviors of each role and then quickly launch into lots of real-world practice. For the concepts to truly take hold, 80% of any RAPID training should be practicing how to break down decisions, communicate efficiently, and productively surface conflict.

The critical role of practice can be seen in the experience of one autonomous driving start-up. After deploying an e-learning module on RAPID as a cost-efficient way to reach its more than 1,500 employees, executives were pleased with the initial response, including a high completion rate. But it wasn’t until significantly later—after multiple rounds of practice—that employees began to report a real understanding of the concepts and commit to using RAPID to make decisions.

4. Leaders display their own desire to learn. Leaders demonstrate the importance of RAPID training by being good learners themselves—both in training sessions and by applying the principles to their work. Leaders who have worked with RAPID at other companies often become advocates for training all levels at their new organization.

Training can take one of two approaches. Some companies mix employees of all levels together. This gives them a chance to learn at the same time and shows the organization that leaders are also dedicating significant time to mastering RAPID. That was the approach chosen by the executive and functional leaders of an Australian insurance company. Each attended the training alongside their team, learning with them live.

Other organizations that train students by cohort get the best results when they start with the executive leadership team and then cascade from there. To maximize attendance among this busy group, it can be helpful to include training in existing executive team meetings.

5. Accelerate RAPID adoption by testing and learning. In the same way that innovation teams regularly review performance and make adjustments, effective managers periodically check how well their decision-making process and roles are working. With a test-and-learn mindset, it’s easier to make progress quickly, because participants know everything does not have to be perfect the first time. There will be a chance to review and fine-tune. When working on decisions that can be reversed—what Jeff Bezos calls “two-way doors”—there is often an opportunity to speed up by reducing the number of I’s (inputs) while closely monitoring outcomes and correcting course as needed.

A test-and-learn mindset isn’t an easy fit for every company. It was uncomfortable at first for the insurance company, which was used to long debates over things like industry regulation. But once they began treating RAPID like a prototype for a new app, executives started conducting reviews every three to four months, embracing the fact that “who should do what” could evolve based on the feedback that came in. As a result of this shift, meetings became shorter and more focused on reviewing actual decision outcomes than on debating hypothetical problems.

RAPID success

Decision making is critical to any organization’s success. Embracing a shared vocabulary around decision roles, like RAPID, is one way that teams and executives can make decisions more effectively. With a thoughtful approach to training, organizations can get a lot out of the RAPID framework.

The authors are grateful to Marcia Blenko, Bain advisory partner and one of the coinventors of RAPID, and Ludovica Mottura, executive vice president of Bain’s Organization practice, for their strong support in developing this article.

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