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Embed decision capabilities in your organization

Embed decision capabilities in your organization

How to make change stick.

  • min read


Embed decision capabilities in your organization

Up to this point in this blog series, posts have described how to assess your company's decision-making process and build an environment that supports good decisions.

In short, the process described boils down to these four steps:

• Scoring your organization's existing decision abilities

• Identifying which decisions, large and small, are truly critical to success

• Setting up those critical decisions for success

• Making sure your organization is set up to make and execute decisions well

This approach includes one more step: embedding the new ways of working in the organization to ensure that they produce continuing results. This step is a little different. It's last in the list, but because it's about making change stick, you need to put it into action in parallel with the other steps.

Three lessons learned by companies that have built durable decision capabilities can help guide your effort:

1. Build the foundation for effective decisions

Begin with a big, meaningful goal. MetLife CEO Rob Henrikson wanted his company to be recognized as a leading global insurance provider. At leadership meetings throughout the company, he and his team declared that MetLife would become a "decision­-driven organization" as part of that journey.

Henrikson's appeal found a receptive ear in Bill Mullaney, then head of MetLife's Institutional Business segment, which accounted for more than 40 per cent of the company's earnings. Mullaney rallied his executive team and met with his top 200 leaders to talk about decision effectiveness.

Then executive vice president Maria Morris began to mobilize her team in Technology & Operations. Soon other leaders were echoing the message. Once the top team and other leaders are on board, the job of spreading the new ideas and approaches becomes that much easier.

2. Create and sustain momentum

The next task is to harness people's energy and build momentum.

You can start by applying good decision practices to the very process you use to improve decision effectiveness. As discussed in previous posts, establish clear accountabilities, define the roles and clarify up front the what, who, how and when for each of these major decisions. Make the process itself an object lesson in the benefits of good decision making and execution.

Successful companies also sustain momentum by celebrating early wins. When people at the grassroots level are inspired, decision effectiveness goes viral—people begin to say spontaneously, "We should do that in our area."

3. Equip people to decide and deliver

Successful companies have developed four techniques for helping people handle important decisions more effectively.

• Develop a repeatable model that can be applied throughout the business. MetLife established a step-by-step approach to decisions and codified a set of tools that each business and function could use to apply best practices in its own area.

• Use a "train the trainer" approach. At MetLife, senior leaders and designated rollout champions got directly involved in redesigning important decisions. The next tier of leaders— individuals who would lead decision improvement efforts in their areas—attended half-day training sessions. These people then worked on specific decisions with support from the senior team and rollout leaders. A one-hour e-learning program was also rolled out to the broader organization.

• Help people learn through experience. The most successful training programs involve actual decisions, not just theoretical exercises. Teams work with experienced coaches to develop capabilities on the job rather than in the classroom.

• Share best practices. At MetLife, executives held kickoff meetings in their own areas, inviting leaders from units that had already begun redesigning decisions to discuss their experiences.

Even if you follow these steps, the journey to decision effectiveness isn't necessarily easy. There are plenty of potential pit­falls—difficult decisions, tough people issues and so on. It takes determination and a willingness to finish what you've started. Many organizations hold back from attacking their most entrenched decision difficulties. The result, almost inevitably, is mediocre performance.

Great results, by contrast, require a great organization—an organization that, like MetLife, is prepared to build on its strengths, work on its weaknesses and learn to decide and deliver, day after day after day.

This article was written by Karim Shariff, Partner based in Dubai and Head of Middle East Organization Practice, Bain & Company and Jenny Davis-Peccoud, Senior Director, Global Organization Practice, Bain & Company.


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