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Decision Coaching

It is Monday morning. Your boss steps in to your cubicle and sits down. She has just returned from a weekend planning retreat with the CEO and the heads of the other business units. Your business unit is lagging and there is a rumor that Apple is about to make a move into your space. The CEO wants a recommendation for action. The CEO wants to consider everything from getting out of this business to major new initiative(s).

Your boss wants you to put together a team to develop a strategy.  She wants to involve “everyone:” global marketing, engineering, manufacturing, market research, and finance. She wants to be involved and she wants the heads of the other two business units involved.

The boss says this is the highest priority project on her agenda. Money and resources are no object.  Just tell her what you need. She believes in you and is ready to bet all the hopes and dreams of the business on your ability to deliver. You gather together your confidence and puff up your enthusiasm.  You tell her, “Yes, I want to do this.” You shake hands, and she leaves.

You turn back to your computer monitor, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself in to? What do I do now? Where do I start?”

Here’s what a good decision coach would do. He would get back to the boss right away and ask her who she thinks should be on the “core” team. He would also schedule a working meeting ASAP. The purpose of the meeting would be to gather the core team together, with the boss, and answer three simple questions:

1) What are we going to do?

2) Why are we doing this?

3) How will we know if we are successful?

A fourth good question can be, How could we fail?

Within a few hours of the meeting, he will send out a thoughtful, one-page draft summary of the answers to the three questions.  This will become the “project vision.”

When this is finished,  you are ready to design the project and answer a second series of project management questions:

● Who needs to be involved?

● What process(s) are we going to use? Issue raising? Brainstorming? Decision analysis? Collaborative Design?

● What is the schedule?

● How much money do we need?

Three questions.002These are project management questions. When these are answered then we are ready to “start” the project. Skip these steps and you will probably end up on the pile of unsuccessful, mediocre projects. This is a big pile. It contains ninty percent of the strategic decision projects in most industries.

When I was consulting at General Motors I was asked to coach a project to decide what to do about Japan. (Japan was the second largest vehicle market in the world. The Japanese had about a 30 percent share of the US market and GM had about a one percent share of the Japanese market.)  I asked if there had been any earlier efforts to develop a strategy. I was told there had been at least six. No one knew what they recommended or where the “reports” were.

If you want to succeed, then start by getting good answers to the simple project framing questions. What are we going to do? Why are we doing this? How will we know we are successful? How can we fail? It’s an easy to do and you will raise the odds of success at least threefold.

See also, “The Coach’s Guide to the Collaborative Design Process.

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