fork in a path in the woods

The Four Cs of Decision Making

In a world of abundant data and complex organizational dynamics, many companies and organizations struggle with a proliferation of meetings in which inefficient processes lead to uneven quality in decisions. This is discouraging and annoying for participants and costly for organizations. A 2019 study by McKinsey & Company reported that fewer than half of respondents said that decisions were timely and 61% complained that at least half of the time spent making them was not well spent. That adds up to a waste of over 500,000 hours of managers’ time in an average Fortune 500 company—that’s some $250 million worth of people’s time. And that’s not even counting the business cost of the decisions themselves. Chances are that if your organization can get even marginally better and more efficient about decision-making, it will save a lot of time and money, improve morale and lead to superior business outcomes. 

McKinsey identifies four categories of decisions and recommends an approach for each that is tailored to their particular challenges: 

  • Big bets, which are rare, high stakes, and made at the leadership level. This type of decision can be improved by practices that foster more productive, honest debate.
  • Cross cutting decisions, which are frequent, often high stakes and collaborative and made at the business unit and senior manager level. Implementation of a robust process, including clear objectives, targets and metrics are key to this type of decision.
  • Delegated decisions, which are frequent and lower stakes and can be made at the individual or team level. These will be improved by ensuring commitment, not just consensus. 
  • The final category is ad hoc decisions, which are frequent and low stakes. 

McKinsey makes no recommendation for improving ad hoc decisions, but these decisions are the source of a lot of frustration and wasted time in the meetings. And there are some simple steps to improve efficiency and quality in these decisions that are often made at the individual or team level. Thanks to my client Stacy Minero, Global Head of Twitter ArtHouse, who has a gift for pithy alliteration and has adopted this framework with her team, I offer the Four C’s for the decision makers: 

  1. Call it —The identified decision maker calls the relevant team members together for discussion, debate, proposals and recommendations. Surface assumptions with curiosity.
  2. Close it—When sufficient data has been evaluated, multiple perspectives explored, and trade-offs clarified, the decision-maker reflects and makes the decision.
  3. Commit to it—Once the decision is made, all participants—even those who wanted it to go another way—own and commit to the decision and its implementation, what Jeff Bezos calls disagree and commit.
  4. Communicate it—Share the decision and its reasoning throughout the team or organization, ensuring that the message is clear and consistent and cascades throughout the appropriate levels of the organization. 

Following these steps will help bring clarity and coherence (more C’s) to your decision making process and make your meetings more efficient.