5 tips for making better decisions during COVID-19

Right now, along with millions of other leaders around the world, you’re having to make decisions about things you never thought you would, at a pace you never imagined.

You’re also making these decisions in an environment that’s changing not just day-by-day, but sometimes, hour-by-hour.  So if you find yourself attempting to control more than is possible or, alternatively, acting like a possum stuck in headlights, unsure which decision to make first, you’re not alone.

Headless chickens and hand flapping are commonplace right now.

One thing’s for sure; it will be difficult to predict or control how this crisis will unfold. What you can do though, is improve your decision-making during these unprecedented times. By making better decisions as a leader, you’ll set the tone for how your team and organisation react to the current crisis. They’re looking to you for direction.

Here are five ways to make better decisions as a leader during the COVID-19 epidemic:

  1. First, get clear on exactly who is making which decisions about what. This seems pretty obvious, but many leadership teams are coming unstuck during this time because lots of people feel accountable – or no one does! The key is to be super clear on who gives input (and how), who gets to then decide and who gets it done. RAPID is just one framework that can be useful here.
  1. Look to a combination of analysis, expertise and intuition when making decisions. We have to move quickly in a crisis. You can’t rely merely on rational or fully formed pictures. Acknowledge that you’ll be working with imperfect information and stop waiting to get it all. Create decision-making frameworks that allow for intuition, as well as facts and what’s known.

For data and facts, rely on trusted and reputable sources like the Ministry of Health or the World Health Organisation. Cite these sources transparently (and often), as people will be getting information from various other (sometimes less reputable) sources. Decide on the most pivotal information and facts your organisation and team needs – and how often. Then set up a system for regular reporting on these key metrics.

For expertise, consider creative ways to access expertise and knowledge. You might be surprised to find that you have sources of expertise within your organisation that you haven’t been aware of or aren’t tapping into yet. You might also have access to expertise outside your organisation that you haven’t previously thought of. Suppliers, industry bodies, customers – and even competitors – can collaborate well in times of crisis and provide each other with necessary expertise and knowledge. Look around. How can you access expertise in a creative way?

For intuition, using your previous experience to tap into your intuition can help you make quick decisions. The subconscious can be incredibly effective at weighing decisions, so this approach is useful at a time like this. You may not have been through anything quite like this before. But don’t be afraid to apply the diverse experiences you’ve had as a leader to cope with this situation. You can leverage traditional leadership experience as a starting point for action – adapting this to the current conditions. Also, consider your own human experience (leadership aside), which will provide you with further context and access to empathy.

Your intuition is powerful – but don’t rely on it alone, as it can be swayed when emotions are high. Look to the other decision-making tools to balance your gut feeling.

  1. Widen your options beyond the obvious. When faced with two options, ask, “Is there a third option? Is there any way we can do both?”Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath nail this concept in their book Decisive. Regularly ask, “…and what else?” to generate creative alternatives to the first, most obvious solutions.
  1. Have a bias for action. In this crisis, some of the world’s leaders have stalled too long in making a move – with disastrous results. By all means, slow down enough to make a call. But then communicate your decision with confidence. Move with urgency. If you need to amend things, then do so after making that first step. You can course-correct afterwards. Don’t wait for perfection – by then, it’s often too late and the situation has moved on, or other information has filled the gap. Make the best decisions you can right now, based on what you currently know. Then, when you know more, you can make a new decision. Don’t let a fear of making the wrong decision keep you from making any decision. Action – not paralysis – is needed now.
  1. Finally, take public responsibility for decisions (especially if you’re the CEO) – then communicate your decisions often and visibly. Be seen, be heard and be visible. Don’t hide behind email, closed doors or press releases. The New Zealand Government is doing this well IMHO. Daily briefings are currently happening where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Civil Defence Sarah Stuart Black front up, every day, at around the same time, to communicate to our nation important decisions and key messages.

It’s easy during lockdown, when many are working from home, to fall prey to disconnection and a lack of visibility as a leader. Get face-to-face with your staff personally if you’re an essential business still operating – always maintain recommended physical distance. Or via video tools if you’re leading virtually. Be available – to communicate your decisions and to encourage and receive feedback. Be accessible to all your staff; it’s not the time to be precious about who has your details. Your people need that now.

People are looking to leaders for surety, clarity and reassurance – and your competence in decision-making offers a powerful mechanism for providing this to them.

Competent decision-making is a vital leadership skill at the best of times. Right now, it’s imperative.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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