November 28

Decisions, Decisions

Like a kid in a sweet shop, it sometimes doesn’t do to have too many choices put in front of you.   Work and life frequently offer an abundance of great ideas or it might be that there are just too many things to try and get done all at once – so you will have to face the beast – you need to make a DECISION.

Decision making has featured heavily in my PULSE assignment. Be it the lack of one, the challenge in trying to reach one, creating a process to make one or the euphoria when we eventually achieve one! Decision making is both a science and an art; it comes with a full range of processes and extremes of emotion I have learnt! What insight might I bring back to my future role in GSK ….

1. Beware of decision making pot-holes

For those that drive on UK roads you’ll know what a pot-hole is … that small void where there is an absence of road, and it can have devastating consequences if it catches you unawares! It’s possible to avoid; but be warned — you’ll soon come across it again and you may not come off so well.   A decision making pot-hole is one where an essential decision has not been made, or maybe it has not been fully bought into by the key players or worse still it could be a decision that has been made but is ignored, circumvented or continually revisited.

It’s fair to say the journey to decide on the focus for a global campaign has seen a few pot-holes. To start with the positive outcome, a really clear and well thought out decision on the campaign identity was finally made in the last few weeks. It involved emphasising the goal, gathering of the options and scientific testing in 10 global markets. Interestingly the final decision appeared, at face value, to be virtually identical to what we started with – the word ‘stop’ instead of ‘end’. Was it all worth it everyone asks? …. In my view, absolutely YES.  We now have senior leaders, members and delivery teams bought into and excited about the campaign. This wasn’t where we were a few months ago. The learning; start with a robust decision making process from the outset … time spent making a solid decision is time gained, not wasted.

2. Look out for decision making traffic jams

If we are stuck in a traffic jam it’s hard to look further ahead than a few vehicles – even less if you’re stuck behind a juggernaut. Any hope of progress is paralysed and frustration is quick to surface. A decision making traffic jam is one where it’s unclear who the decision maker is, or maybe there are too many people with conflicting priorities looking at the decision to support their own agenda, or maybe the ideal decision is being overshadowed by that juggernaut blocking the view of the road ahead.

Save the Children is a particularly complex organisation (like most NGO’s and large corporates too I might add – so not unique!!). This is not surprising given the far-reaching work it does for the most deprived and marginalised children in some of the most challenging places on the globe. The 29 members of the STC movement are relatively autonomous … but for the first time are working together in an integrated way to deliver a global campaign to mark the 100th anniversary. On top of that, there are many cross-cutting networks of experts and functional delivery groups to inform, involve and influence. Trying to work out who to bring in and when, and ensure the right interests and perspectives are factored in has been a continual challenge in my role.   The learning; you can’t please everyone, but if people feel consulted and included it helps a long way with ensuring the eventual decision will stick with those who have to do the doing.

3. Make use of a decision making Sat Nav

When travelling somewhere new it’s advisable to plan and map the road ahead. Where do we need to get to, how long have we got, what transport options work best, are there any toll routes, where should we stop on the way … you know the score.   A decision making sat nav or plan will set us up for success. A quality decision on a complex matter comes from thoughtfully considering every stage of the journey, not jumping the high speed route to the destination – which may well take its toll later on.

While at SCI I’ve been helping the team seek a creative popular activation approach that can be used globally to engage millions with the Stop the War on Children campaign.  So many creative inputs, campaign expertise and strong opinions have been shared and shared again … including those from several world leading agencies.  Making decisions in silos has definitely not worked (no buy-in, narrow field of view and too wedded to own perspectives), but neither has trying to reach consensual decisions (member markets too diverse, wishy-washy outcomes and disengagement).  We could, however, all firmly agree that we do want one global popular activation – so we have kept trying, even if it seems we are shooting for the moon.  The last few weeks I’ve been helping to facilitate the decision making process to choose from 8 potential ideas, using the 5 simple steps below (Note to self: compare and contrast with the new GSK R&D decision making tool when I return).  My learning; trust the process, be willing to let go of your own ideas for the greater good and short circuit any of the steps at your peril. 

  1. What we need to achieve – get very clear on this (as well as what we don’t need).
  2. Lay out all the options – as clearly, consistently and concisely as possible
  3. Adopt a neutral approach – so key players can contribute, comment and commit.  
  4. Invest time and effort – engage people, listen intently and incorporate new insight.
  5. Accountable decision maker – makes the final call from a refined set of options.  

4. Know your decision making destination

It’s essential to start with the end in mind. On my way home from London I jump on the train every day – one arrives to my platform every 5 minutes and they all look the same. I need to look at the board to see when it is due, and again at the front of the train to make sure it’s heading my direction.  The decision making destination is about having absolute clarity on the goal and remembering to regularly recheck. Without that we may make the wrong assumptions or assess options against the wrong criteria.

I have recently been weighing up various personal options to take me on the next stage of my career journey … as the sun heads towards the horizon for my PULSE role.  A heck of a lot has changed in six months; not just me – with a renewed outlook on my abilities, more confidence and a stronger sense of purpose, but also back at GSK where change is once again afoot.  I have no doubt that many new opportunities will beckon, but before I jump on board any old train, I want to very carefully consider what I want to achieve next and why – so that I can make the best decisions to take me to my next special place.  My learning; be bolder, be braver and put yourself forward for the seemingly impossible – there is nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I’ve come to realise there is nothing scary about making a decision.  In fact, quite the opposite – working in the absence of sound decisions or with non-committal decisions, is at best time-wasting and energy-sapping and at worst demoralising and disengaging for all involved.

So next time I take the kids to the sweet shop, I’ll remind them it is great to have so many choices laid out in front of them – but to choose wisely, take their time, don’t bite off too much more than they can chew and that they can always come back for another one tomorrow when today’s sugar rush has worn off.

#changeGSK #changeyourself #neveraneasydecision #ivolunteer #PULSE10