Decision Making Through Constant Change

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization and Professional Development

Remember the good old days, pre-COVID, when we talked about the stress of rapid change? Sure, we talked about VUCA, but only now do we truly understand what Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous means for ourselves and our organization. The last six months have been a never-ending test of our stamina, courage, and ability to pivot quickly, and many of our tried and true methods of approaching work and leadership have been challenged. As stated in the McKinsey & Company article Decision Making in Uncertain Times, “The typical approach of many companies, big and small, will be far too slow to keep up in such turbulence. Postponing decisions to wait for more information might make sense during business as usual. But when the environment is uncertain—and defined by urgency and imperfect information—waiting to decide is a decision in itself” (Alexander et al., 2020).

To move forward in this environment, here are some principles to keep in mind:

  1. Take a breath. To make good decisions, you need oxygen going to your brain. You might feel a sense of urgency, or even panic, but it is worthwhile to take some deep breaths and reflect on the situation at hand before brainstorming solutions or making decisions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  2. Collect information. Do you have any data? Past precedence? Do a quick literature scan on best practices to get ideas. Consider impacts to stakeholders and get their perspectives. You likely won’t have a great deal of time to explore every possible option but do your homework to the best of your ability, given the urgency of the need.
  3. Involve others. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that none of us can do it all alone. Talk to your peers to see who else is facing this challenge so that you can share ideas or partner on a solution. Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Tap the wisdom of your team or other groups on campus or even other institutions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  4. Mitigate bias. The NeuroLeadership Institute offers some key types of bias to be aware of as you make decisions (2019):
    • Similarity bias. Simply put, we prefer what is like us over what is different. An example is hiring people who they perceive to be like them. Make an active effort to get input and feedback from those who are different, or you’ll likely be short-sighted.
    • Expedience bias. We choose the quickest alternative. Make sure you are not going just on one data point without considering options.
    • Experience bias. We see our perception as truth. How would a new employee view this? Someone from another generation? Seek feedback and don’t assume your view is the only one.
    • Distance bias. We prefer what’s closer over what’s farther away and, as a result, can miss some unique solutions.
    • Safety bias. We protect against loss more than we seek to gain. When it comes to COVID-19, we need to take every safety precaution. In non-health related issues, taking calculated risks helps to propel us forward and innovate.
  5. Consider alternatives. Look not only at how your decisions will impact the current situation, but where they might fit in after the pandemic. Weigh out potential risks and benefits for both the short and long game. Weigh options through the lens of broader organizational priorities and realities, considering values, impact on students, budget, staff engagement and more.
  6. Make the decision. After expediently doing all the above, you must decide and then make that decision clear to others. Remember, you will make the best decision you can with the time and information you have at that moment.
  7. Execute and evaluate. Some leaders forget that the real work begins after the decision is made. Be clear on who will execute the decision, timelines and parameters. Check in to see how things are going, if informing variables have changed or if support is needed. Empower your leaders as much as possible to make the day to day decisions to get the job done.
  8. Reflect. After implementation, take a few moments to consider how the decision went and what you and others can learn.

I’m sure we’ll all have much to reflect on once we move past this incredible time in history. Until then, the challenges keep coming, and we’ll continue to take them on. Don’t forget to lean on each other. You are not alone in feeling the weight of the work and decisions that face you. Talking with trusted colleagues can lighten the load. As this Inside Higher Ed article says, “Unlike many external critics, they understand that one ‘good’ often conflicts with another, and that choices are inevitably made among flawed options in imperfect conditions with limited information. You do the best you can, and you live with it” (Dean Dad, 2012). Good luck and good health to you all.

Sources:

Alexander, A., De Smet, A., and Weiss, L., (March 24, 2020) Decision Making in Uncertain Times, Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/decision-making-in-uncertain-times

Benjamin, D. Komlos, D., (July 20, 2020) The Pandemic is Teachings to Embrace Uncertainty and Build it into Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminkomlos/2020/07/20/the-pandemic-is-teaching-us-to-embrace-uncertainty-and-build-it-into-decision-making/#710a1d1a6faa

NeuroLeadership Institute (April 9, 2019) The 5 Biggest Biases that Affect Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from  https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/seeds-model-biases-affect-decision-making/

Cole, B. M. (April 14, 2020) Seven Simple Steps for Good Decision Making During a Crisis. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/biancamillercole/2020/04/14/follow-these-7-steps-for-good-decision-making-in-a-crisis/#5dd83f933fe4

Dean Dad (March, 2012) Ask the Administrator: If I Become a Dean, Will my Faculty Colleagues Shun Me? Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/ask-administrator-if-i-become-dean-will-my-faculty