In general, we tend to make decisions based on the way information is presented. Given two options that are identical, options presented in a more positive light, or options that play to our existing anchors and convictions, will be considered the more compelling option.
Creating templates can help combat the framing effect and forces contributors to present information in a similar way. This template is a general-use template that can be modified and built-upon to fit other use cases.
The template includes a few critical parts:
Summarize the decision in a single sentence. This typically takes the form of a question, for example, “should we update our work from home policy?”. Avoid summarizing the decision in a way that points to a specific solution.
“To ask the right question is already half the solution to a problem.” – C.G. Jung
Roles and Responsibilities
It’s important to be clear up front what an individuals role in the decision making process is and get the right people involved early and at the right capacity.
The blueprint covers a few models for effectively defining roles including DACI, RACI, and RAPID®.
Though we can define roles and responsibilities at the genesis of the decision, this is much more effective if it’s architected as part of the broader decision chain. Roles and responsibilities can be assigned at the decision domain level and automatically assigned if decisions fit any part of the domain scope.
For example, if we need to make a decision to change pricing on a particular product, we could automatically include the right people across product management, finance, legal, engineering, marketing, etc... because it’s predefined who has what level of authority in the product domain, the finance domain, and the technical domain.
Set the stage for the decision. The goal is to bring collaborators and stakeholders up to speed as fast as possible and create a legible artifact that’s easy to interpret looking back. It’s important that someone can read the decision log and understand the 360° scope of thinking at the time.
How this document is structured can vary, but it’s best to retain some consistency in how they are structured and what information is included. This might include:
Clearly and concisely define the issue at hand. This should include a description of the current situation, relevant background information, and the desired outcome.
Being intentional about building context and painting a clear picture of what is known and what is still uncertain will help ensure that all relevant parties are able to get up to speed and fully understand the problem.
As dialog progresses around a decision, there needs to be guardrails that help constrain the discussion towards what’s important and avoid unnecessary cycles. This makes it clear what information isn’t needed or when discussions become unproductive.
To do this, articulate what the most important factors are in the outcome of the decision. We dig deeper into this with the multi-criteria decision matrix, but even simply listing what the important deciding factors or non-negotiables are in the decision will help frame the dialog.
Options should be thoughtfully collected and presented on a level playing field. Not surprisingly, due to the ambiguity effect, we gravitate towards ideas we can understand and visualize. In many cases, better options may be thrown out due to a gap in understanding or an inability to truly 'see' the potential.
Ensure that all options are communicated effectively. Options should clearly articulate how they align to the decision criteria.
Outcomes & Probabilities
This is where we start to surface potential risks and check our optimism bias. Start with articulating the desired outcome (this is typically the easy part) then utilize the following techniques to encourage counterfactual thinking:
- Decision Tree: Outline potential outcomes and the probabilities of those outcomes to occur
- Pre-Mortem: Imagine a future where the decision did not work out. Explain what might have happened in both scenarios.
- Levers: Outline the variables that are in control vs variables that are out of control relevant to the decision
These activities can be done with the broader team through nominal groups. This approach should be used any time groups are sharing information and evaluating ideas together.
When the decision is ultimately made, record what the decision was. Though the format may vary, they often take the form of a question and answer. For example:
Set a date to both record the outcome and review the decision. In some cases, these may be different dates and reviews may happen multiple times in the future.
For example, if we made a decision to acquire a company, we may want to review that particular decision quarterly and have those learnings influence future acquisitions.
Avoiding the framing effect
The reason we deploy framing templates and give our decision documentation structure is to avoid the framing effect and ensure the process includes an appropriate level of rigor. Below are a few additional recommendation to avoid the framing effect.
If possible, employ an unbiased driver
When we talk about roles and responsibilities in the decision making process, we identify an individual who's responsible for driving the decision from inception to completion (e.g. the driver in the DACI framework). They're responsible for herding, scheduling, and managing contributors, but they're also a great candidate to initially frame the decision.
Drivers should typically be unaffected by the impact of the decision outcome, so they make a great candidate to frame the decision without bias. It's okay if the driver does not have all of the context. Sometimes quick interviews can set up enough information to frame the decision, contributors will help fill in the rest.
Remove the decider from the framing exercise
In some cases, it's okay for the decider to be involved in framing and proposals. If the team struggles with the decider often opting for their own ideas, then it's best to keep them out of the framing process.
We’re naturally persuasive, and the framing may include some leading information, make biased assumptions, or choke the scope of the problem towards a specific way of thinking. Just having the decision framed by a manager can incite authority bias.
Avoid pro and con lists
Consider banning pro and con lists altogether. They're often the most susceptible to the framing effect because whoever is framing has control over the information being used to compare as well as the 'sentiment' of the information. Even worse, activities that directly contribute to the framing effect, like using red and green to denote good/bad, are used more often than not.
Understand some collaborators may be better at framing
As managers and leaders, we tend to be very good at framing decisions in a persuasive way and the smarter we are, the better we are at convincing ourselves that we’re right.
Elevate contributors that may be less experienced or have less confidence in their ideas. They often poke holes in their own ideas before they even make it on the table. Experience is important and more experienced collaborators may have better intuition, but be aware that they may be better at selling their own ideas.