Decision Making or Analysis Paralysis?

A crisis brings many pressures to bear.  Leaders at all levels will be faced with choices about the ‘least worst’ option, with little time, inadequate resources and sparse information upon which to rely; they’ll have to navigate the challenges of the crisis.  The path ahead won’t be clear.  And quite often crisis leaders run the risk of becoming trapped by their need for certainty and simplicity, while the crisis provides for neither.  In these circumstances it’s easy to become stunned into indecision, searching for a complete picture, overwhelmed by the ‘noise’ and making little progress.

US Air Force pilot, John Boyd, expressed the logic of his decision making in aerial combat as the ‘OODA Loop’ – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  Observation is about improving your awareness of the situation, whilst accepting you won’t gain a complete picture.  Orientation talks to ‘sense making’ of what you’ve observed, relating it to what you already know and to your experience. Options might be generated at this point and tough choices follow.  Decisions are sometimes easier said than done, but decisions there must be if any progress is to be made.  And for all of this to have any effect, the decisions must generate coherent actions that lead to progress.  Don’t forget it’s a loop, so after the action there’ll be more observation to see the effect of the action, and so begins another cycle of the loop… you get the picture.

Simple as this may sound in theory, many crisis teams struggle to provide themselves with quality information, making their decisions more difficult and less likely to have a positive effect. To help your crisis team make optimal decisions it’s key that they are neither swamped (leading to paralysis) nor misled (leading to irrelevant decisions).  They should be presented with as clear a picture as possible based on the right information (filtered – not every possible piece of information) and anchored through the key issues in play.  And that’s where many teams come unhinged; they have neither a system of  information management, nor the means to bring it to bear.  The more complex your organisation the more of a problem this is likely to create.  It’s therefore key to have a system that coordinates the OODA loop effectively to give the decision makers the information they need to make relevant decisions that will have a positive effect.

Our recent piece of thought leadership draws on some experience in designing and delivering just such a system; in fact a whole crisis management facility and the accompanying procedures were designed and built around this very logic. All that’s needed to help your crisis decision making is the means to gather information, filter it, join it together and present it effectively – all enabled by a skilled team and some well thought through and rehearsed procedures.  OODA – not paralysis.