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Clear Process Leads to Better Decisions: A Case Study

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TV Sitcoms are full of people making bad decisions to humorous effect. Often, people in sitcoms either just react and do something completely ridiculous, or they make tortuous decisions based on rigid thinking and false assumptions that end up creating irony, comedy, conflict, or all three. Whether it’s Sheldon Cooper driving without a license at Penny’s insistence, or Homer Simpson framing Marge for a DUI, bad decision-making processes end up with unexpected results. Thankfully, in sitcoms, these decisions are usually wrapped up in 21 minutes (plus ads). Nevertheless, in real life, poor process leads to poor decisions that often don’t have such an easy resolution.

I believe that clear process leads to better decisions. Unclear and inconsistent process leads to unclear and inconsistent decisions that can harm the health of an overall enterprise, making it less nimble to respond to changes in the marketplace and its overall environment.

Let me illustrate how we applied good process from a recent client experience.

I recently worked with a member-based organization (I’ll call it MBO here) to rewrite their bylaws. Our task was to simplify their governance, remove redundancies and inconsistencies, and streamline the overall organization. A previous committee had charged the current working group with deciding what needed to be in the bylaws, and what needed to be shifted to other documents – and what needed to just be disposed of. So we dug in.

A change in governance of any organization is highly political, and this organization was no different. There were many challenges to be overcome for a successful conclusion that did not cause harm to MBO itself. Here are a four of the most significant challenges:

  • Select beneficiaries: The original bylaws were actually working for some people and stakeholder groups (a select group of beneficiaries), despite the general sense that they were encumbering MBO. Some individuals and groups were clearly empowered by the structure, and benefitted from the challenges the bylaws created for others.
  • Self-reinforcing system: The original bylaws had a 9-board system, where no one board really had the final effective say, or the power of initiative. Therefore, MBO was very effective at maintaining its status quo and empowering a minority of stakeholders, but the same system prevented it from adapting to new changes.
  • Loss of Power: Any streamlining of the organization would likely cause multiple different stakeholder groups to lose power, while the overall power of the members was increased. When people perceive they are losing power, they will fight to retain it.
  • Previous failure: No one had done this process successfully in over 20 years. The last time a group had received a commission to do this kind of work, the changes failed and were never brought before the members. This left anxiety in MBO as to how this would go.

The work we did to overcome these challenges demonstrates how to build a clear process.

  1. We documented what the process would be for changing the bylaws (per the current bylaws).
  2. We sat down and designed the (internal) process we would use on the committee to change the bylaws.
  3. We designed a feedback and engagement process (external) for stakeholders and members.
  4. Our internal process and our external process were consistent and complimentary.
  5. We communicated regularly with the members and guided them through the overall change.
  6. We created consensus on the overall concepts of the changes we needed to make before developing the details.
  7. We took feedback seriously and integrated it into our work.
  8. We created opportunities for those who felt they were losing something to gain something else.
  9. We followed our own process and the expected process for change we set out in 1 – 3 above.
  10. We took care not to demonize those who opposed us and did what we could to make sure they knew they were heard.

When the votes came in from the members to change to new bylaws, we exceeded the required supermajority by 20%. This helped the new board of directors feel they had a mandate to implement the changes required by the new bylaws, and they have maintained the backing of the members since.

In general, two principles emerge that produce the best decisions from clear process:

  1. A good process design that engages the key players and creates buy-in from the beginning.
  2. Sticking to the process designed in the first place and engaging key players for any needed adjustments along the way.

Where have you seen processes succeed? Fail?

Tell us in the comments!

Interested in breaking free from the organizational challenges surrounding you?

At the L M Thomas Group we specialize in helping leaders make clear-headed, strategic decisions when faced with multiple critical challenges. We can help you pinpoint what isn’t working, and design solutions that fit your budget and goals. Let’s grab coffee or a Skype call to talk about how we can help you! (Message us below to set one up.)


 

 

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Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew M. Thomas, EPC, is the President of the L M Thomas Group.

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