The Five R’s of High Stakes Decision Making

Question MarksWhen I ask people to describe the characteristics of a great leader, the ability — and courage — to make decisions is often mentioned. Followers want direction and action.

So how are you, as a leader, to tackle the challenges of making a critical decision when its all on the line?  I have developed the Five R Framework for high stakes decision making that can be useful in any number of situations where information is fragmented or ambiguous, the situation complex, and pressure significant. The Five R’s can help center you and your team as you work through options and consequences:

  • Reap: What do you have the potential to gain with this decision? Competitive advantage? Higher revenue? Lower costs? Be as exhaustive as you can in thinking about what the upside offers;
  • Risk: What might you lose if you fail to make this decision or if you make the wrong one? Time? Money? Reputation? Relationships? Again, be exhaustive and include others for whom the decision may have ramifications;
  • Recruit: Who else can, and should, you bring into your effort? Look to those who will either share the impact or who can offer resources to help move you forward.
  • Repeal: How easy will it be to reverse course if you need to? No decision is perfect and you will likely need to alter it over time. This perspective helps move the focus from the short-term to the mid-term;
  • Regret: What is the worst case if you make this decision? What is the worst case if you do not? Be brutally honest. This perspective can move you from the middle ground to the horizon.

You’ll have data for some of these factors, but not for all. You’ll have to look inside yourself and think about what you see as your purpose and that of your organization (and if the answer you get is “make the quarterly number,” look harder). You will think about the consequences for others. You will think about your legacy.

This needn’t be a long process. You are likely to have time constraints in a high stakes situation and the Five R’s should not be used as an excuse for delay. Instead such a framework, when practiced and ready, should streamline decision making. You can work with the framework for everyday decisions until it becomes ingrained and almost intuitive.

We have a natural bias toward the status quo that must be overcome. Making the big decisions, the tough calls, is the core of leadership. Will you be ready when you are called upon?

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