The decisive edge:

5 steps to improve organizational decision making


Published on: June 2024

Written by: Libby MacKenzie, Abbey Bonham, Emma Nyström

In a landscape where big and small decisions can have meaningful impacts on an organization’s strategic and cultural direction, building intentional and healthy decision-making habits is essential. What makes for “healthy” habits is determined by the company’s growth stage and current needs. For mid-size companies, the balance between rapid growth and operational efficiency can be particularly challenging. Changing roles, evolving leadership expectations, and shifting customer demands put pressure on the organization to work in new ways, while also maintaining focus on the top and bottom line. Many senior leaders in this stage of evolutionary growth start noticing decision-making paralysis that causes delays, frustration, and stalled progress.

The bottom line is, as organizations transition into new stages of maturity, decision-making norms also need to transition. Unlocking performance often requires a decision rewiring to address new points of friction caused by changes to the complexity of the business and the ecosystem.

Why decisions matter now more than ever

Mid-size organizations face unique pressures that complicate decision-making:

  • Rapid technological advancements requiring timely adaptation
  • Evolving customer needs demanding quick, effective responses
  • Increased market competition due to lower barriers to entry
  • The necessity of providing personalized, integrated solutions
  • Increasingly interdependent business models requiring more flexible decision-making
  • A growing reliance on diverse perspectives and collaborative decision-making

These factors are reshaping the stakes for businesses, making high-quality, swift decision-making not just advantageous but essential for staying competitive.

Five key steps to elevating decision-making in your organization:

Our research and experience have found that there are five key steps to moving the needle on making better, faster decisions, that will enable you to move beyond the friction.

  1. Identify areas for change: Understand the current pain points and what’s at stake if nothing changes. This is about determining the scope and nature of the issue.
    • Scope-wise, are the decision-making challenges isolated to a certain team, level, or function? Or is this a broader, integrated issue spanning intersection points of the organization?
    • Regarding the nature of the issue, is there a knowledge/clarity gap that can be fixed with information or skill development? Or is it the challenge more nuanced and driven by patterns of behavior that have been engrained over time and now need to shift?
  2. Assess your current decision-making landscape: Diagnose the root cause by examining what decision-making looks like in practice today, finding the specific sticking points and digging into the drivers of the behavior. For example, are there certain processes in the way that no longer work for the company? Is there misalignment around what tradeoffs are acceptable? Are cross-functional teams operating from different truths because of mismatching data? This foundational clarity is key to moving forward.
  3. Define necessary shifts and tools: The findings of steps 1 and 2 lead to setting clear priorities on the few, targeted aspects of decision making that are most important to address now and then supporting the organization with tools to help make clear “how” to address them. For example, for a company with a matrix structure, this might mean moving from multiple decision-makers to a single, empowered decision sponsor.
  4. Make it tangible and actionable: Bring the conceptual to the practical. Create simulations and working sessions to help your team practice new decision-making processes in a safe environment. Do focused skill-building in the areas leaders most need to make decisions in new ways, such as decision framing, constructive debate, and influencing.
  5. Embed and reinforce new practices: Ensure that supporting processes and systems reinforce the behaviors you want to see. For example, review approval processes, accountability mechanisms, and after-action reviews and if needed, change them. Use regular feedback mechanisms to reinforce behaviors and adjust as necessary.

Decisions shape the future of your organization. And as a leader, you must recognize when the decision-making environment is out of alignment with the business direction or the culture that you want to create. From there, these steps need not be overly complex or burdensome. The key is to truly understand the core decision-making challenges – and what systemically needs to change given where the organization is now and where it’s going – before moving to solutions. The steps you take today to improve decision-making will lead to a stronger, more resilient tomorrow for your organization.

Ready to start a conversation?

Want to know how BTS can help your business? Fill out the form below, and someone from our team will follow up with you.