Design & Business: Decision-making under Pressure…

2 weeks ago by

Nearly two years ago now I designed a decision-making framework for a client. The Founder recently shared with me what she thought of it then (she hated it!) and what she thinks now (she loves it!). 

A story – when a decision-making framework leads to better culture AND better decisions.

PREKURE – is incredible; a social enterprise working to inspire the medical profession to focus on disease prevention rather than treatment. Two years ago they were three years old, and most decisions still sat with Louise, the Founder and CEO. The PREKURE team was growing, fast, and wanting to get closer to strategic decisions, particularly those that impacted on their area of the business. Louise had too much on her plate and wanted to see more ownership of strategic outcomes from the team. Recent decisions had had mixed results, the team had change-fatigue and frustration was creeping in on both sides. 

They were still in start-up mode, under pressure to find Product Market Fit and a scalable operating model… meaning the decisions to be made were many. A solution was needed to ensure better decisions could be made with due consideration of impact and implications. 

The unexpected consequence of this solution was the impact it had on the team and culture.

The design process and solution went something like this:

We agreed the following principles:

  • Detail matters – for a decision to be made there needs to be enough detail to support an informed and objective discussion, but minds still need to be open regarding the outcome
  • People invited to the table need to know how to contribute and that it is safe to do so 
  • Decisions need to align to what matters most – organisation purpose, vision and values
  • Process must not result in unduly conservative decisions, group think or become a tick-box exercise that can be subverted by an individual
  • Team to be continuously improving decision-making performance and confidence. 

Established that there are distinct roles for the decision process:

  • A decision owner – someone willing to put in the work to frame the decision well
  • The decision team – a group to evaluate the decision from their perspectives, i.e., owners of a business function, a team, a product or market segment etc
  • A facilitator – someone to lead the evaluation korero 
  • The implementation team – to take responsibility for the work and intended outcomes.

Designed the ingredients for the recipe: 

Some were functional, such as a templated way to frame each decision; to articulate the problem or opportunity, explore the options and model the impact, risks and assumptions; a process to weigh the options against strategy – purpose, values and goals – and the organisations’ ability to implement the decision; and, a decision log to record decisions made and a process for running Post Implementation Review’s (PIR’s).

Others cultural, including agreement that all decisions would be evaluated with integrity; a commitment to run the evaluation session in a way that encouraged honest, robust korero; and coaching around the biases and tendencies that might be at play in decision-making, i.e., sunk cost bias, groupthink, conservative decisions being made due to change-fatigue.

Set the steps for baking the cake:

  1. Frame the decision and share this thinking with the decision team in advance
  2. The evaluation process – I coached the team on how to run a facilitated discussion using the Desirability, Viability and Feasibility (DVF) framework.
    • Notes;
      • PREKUREs strategy was coded into the DVF framework 
      • For all decisions ‘doing nothing’ was to be evaluated as an option
      • It was agreed that a decision would only pass if rated higher than 11/15.

3. Plan who will do next steps, including: 

  • Capture the notes about the decision into a decision register for future reference
  • Communicate the decision to stakeholders
  • Prioritise, resource and plan the work and
  • Calendarise and run the PIR.

The proof is in the pudding

As mentioned, when I first introduced the decision framework to Louise she had (ahem) reservations, but to her credit supported its first run, recognised the impact it had with the team, and over time has grown to see it as a key tool in her business’ toolbox.

Last week she shared these thoughts over a ramen bowl:

“It forces a pause between idea and enactment. I was worried it would slow us down honestly, instead it’s made sure we are ready to make a good call, not just any call. Often I am surprised by the decision we make, it is not what I thought we would decide, but in every instance its given a better result.” 

I approached the wider PREKURE team for their feedback too:

“I like that the squeaky wheel doesn’t rule the roost anymore. There is a level of trust, where you know it is ok share your view even if it means disagreeing with others.”

“It slows us down in order to to speed up – we take the time now to understand the impact of decisions on the business.” 

“The team feel they have a voice and better understand the why behind things, and are therefore more receptive to the pain of change.”

Bringing it back to you – what are some decisions you might face as the owner or leader of a creative business? 

  • When to grow the team and when to hold
  • Which mahi to chase or run from 
  • When and how to introduce new capabilities to the offer
  • What to do with a cash surplus – reinvest, pay down debt, or distribute dividends
  • How to plan for succession 
  • Timing and method for exiting the business and realising value for stakeholders.

These decisions collectively shape the strategic direction, operating model, and long-term sustainability of your business. Each one matters, with no crystal ball available.

The kicker… decision-making tends to get harder over time not easier. As businesses grow complexity grows – more people are involved, there is more at stake and BAU work pulls harder on your time and energy. The PREKURE story proves that you can fight this. No matter what age and stage your organisation is at you can improve decision-making, with a well designed process. You may find this has unexpected consequences for team and culture!

About the author:

Donna Maxwell | Running Mate ~ helping business leaders run further and faster.

Who am I? Someone who likes to help people who are running businesses they care deeply about.

I was an owner and director of a design agency for 10+ years. DNA works with clients across multiple sectors required to deliver effective customer experiences and address the challenges of disruption and digital transformation. I held the role of General Manager for my final few years at DNA, responsible for 50+ ppl across studios in Auckland and Wellington and ensuring the agency was well-designed to meet client needs and hit commercial and strategic goals.

From there, I took on the role of GM of a privately-owned NZ software company in the private aviation sector, with 25+ employees across the world and a global customer base. The pandemic brought that to an untimely end. Needless to say, I understand what it takes to run small-medium sized businesses, and the complexities that slow us down.

My kaupapa is to help leaders grow and sustain businesses. This might mean optimising the operating model and organisation culture to match strategy or building planning processes which cover the rainy days and help you find the pot of gold at the end.

How might I help? I am really flexible. You can engage me for a set project, a fixed time period or on a regular day-a-week basis – kind of like having a GM in your pocket!

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