Innovative Solutions Come from Debate

Mar 4, 2020Business Development, Coaching0 comments

Innovation has become a driving force in the sustained growth in any industry. One study found that almost 90% of businesses consider innovation a priority. Richard Rush describes the 5 Stages of Innovation Adoption as: 

  • Knowledge (learning about the innovation)
  • Persuasion (figuring out the potential value of the decision)
  • Decision (will the innovation be accepted or rejected)
  • Implementation (utilizing the innovation)
  • Confirmation (making sure the decision is correct). 

The question is how you decide what problems to solve and how are you going to solve them.

There are two ways that decisions are most often made. Either by the team leader with a small group of confidants (dictator style) or by listening to your team. How you ultimately make the decision will determine the motivation and buy in of everyone involved. According to  Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, the best decisions are made in three steps: Frame the Issue, Create the Debate and Drive the Decision.

Frame the Issues

Framing the issue is the leader’s primary responsibility when posing the decision to be made. It needs to be specific. Rather than asking, “What service should we develop to add to our offerings?” A better question would be, “Should we develop Service A or Service B to add to our offering mix?” This distinction will focus the team on the decision to be made and frames the discussion. A good practice might be posing the question a few days before you meet with your team, giving them time to consider and research their responses.

When framing the question, everyone involved in the decision-making process needs to understand why the question is important. In the above example, you might say, “The service we develop will solve X problem for our customers, strengthening long-term relationships and continued revenue growth. As the leader, you need to determine does the decision warrant collective input and debate? When it is a high-stakes decision, you want everyone to be doing their best decision (even if ultimately you are going to make the final determination). As you explain why this important decision, you make clear what you envision the outcome if you make no decision whatsoever.

It is equally important to clearly identify who will be involved in the decision making. Consider who will provide input. Everyone who will be affected by the decision should be represented in the process (this reduces the number of people in the process if you have more than 20 employees).  You should ensure that you have the right people at the table by asking are the right people at the table? Am I missing anyone?

Finally, everyone will need to know how the final decision will be made. Will it be made by a majority decision, by consensus or by an individual? Keep in mind, it is ultimately the owner, founder or CEO who is responsible for the decision once it’s made. By considering the input and recommendations of others, you will build support for the decision if you believe you should make it alone.

Creating the Debate

When you pose the question, it must be compelling and important to everyone in attendance. You need to share pertinent information to create a collective and holistic understanding of the issue at hand. All the information is fact and not opinion based. In addition, everyone involved in debating the solution needs to be more focused on what they learn than on winning or losing.

As the leader, you should create a sense of safety to promote sound decision making. There are several things you can do to create this. You should look beyond organizational hierarchy and job titles. The debate should be fact based and kept depersonalized and unemotional. You should encourage all points of view and for people to take on opposing points of view. You may even want to challenge people to provide arguments as to why their answer may not be the best. And it is highly recommended that you share your point of view after hearing other people’s views.

Even while you are creating a safe place for people to debate their points of view, you still must demand rigor. Ask hard questions. When challenging underlying assumptions look for evidence in the data. Try to look at the issues from multiple perspectives. You can do this by debating all sides of the issue (you want the best decision, not your favorite decision). Take care to attack the issue and not the people who are influencing the decision. Finally, constantly ask “WHY?” as you search for the root cause.

The debate will bring forth new understandings and perspectives of the issue, representing all the stakeholders who will be affected by the decision. As your team debates it creates the potential of connecting ideas that will advise a better decision than would have been made without the debate. The multiple viewpoints bring a sense of understanding of the facts from everyone’s perspective. This allows a shared understanding by each person.

Drive the Decision

You should be asking yourself are we making the decision right now? Is there any missing information? While it is possible to get caught up in too many facts or details (is the information valuable for the issue at hand?) you want to have all the information necessary to make the best decision.

You need to make sure everyone knows how the decision is going to be made. Knowing you are ultimately responsible for the decisions; are you going to make the call or leave it as a team decision. If it is a team decision, how will you resolve any differing views? You can have the team set up ground rules on this before you start to debate, or you can manage them on a case by case basis. 

As a postmortem for the debate, has anything surfaced during the debate that changed the decision-making process? When having the stakeholders debate a solution you will sometimes find there is a better question or option that was not considered. If so, you, either alone or with the rest of your team, need to determine the next steps to move forward.

The final step of the innovative decision-making process is to create the metrics. What are you going to accomplish? What does it look like? When the decision drives a large initiative, it may be best to use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). When creating OKRs you should have three to five key results associated with each objective. For example, you may be looking to create a more environmentally sustainable building (the objective). The key results that will measure if the objective is met may be within six months we will be using solar power generated on the roof, we will install automatic faucets, we install LED lights in all light fixtures, and we will have installed solar powered water heaters. While it is like SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals, it succinctly provides the timeline and metrics to demonstrate success.

Decisions need to be made in your organization every day. As a leader, are you going to dictate decisions or are you going to include your stakeholders in determining new initiatives?


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