The Noggin Blog

If Your Clients Aren't Prepared for Decision Derailers, They Aren't Prepared for Crisis

Posted by The Brain on Aug 28, 2020 2:46:35 PM

Your clients probably know that seeking out too much information can be a way of avoiding acting decisively during a crisis. But do they know there’s a whole class of stressors called decision derailers that cause ineffective crisis decision making?

Prepare for Decision Derailers in Crisis Management
Decision derailers are barriers to rational decision making. There’s a whole literature about them. And if you aren’t giving your clients the facts about decisions derailers, they won’t be able to act efficiently when a crisis comes.

So, what are crisis decision derailers, exactly? Introduced by experts in business resilience and continuity, decision derailers are behaviors that get in the way of effective decision making.

Sounds simple, but their effects can be catastrophic. Researchers find that decision derailers are felt acutely in practice, so much so that a crisis team’s decision-making strengths often can’t compensate for the cumulative effects of derailing behaviors.

That’s why it’s particularly important for your clients to fully understand these decision derailers. What, then, are the main decision derailer groupings? They are:

  • Altered perspectives. In this scenario, decision makers have had their frames of reference altered by a compelling story or a recent event, neither of which is actually relevant to the crisis at hand. However, the crisis leader will let the erroneous perspective inform how crisis decisions are taken.

  • Organizational speed bumps. Often, crisis teams will cut off consideration of all possible alternatives prematurely. Why? They feel excessively optimistic or overconfident in the approach they’ve taken. The downsides should be clear, though: teams that don’t recognize their limitations are likelier to make faulty decisions based on fallacious premises.

  • Appeal to authority. In crisis, teams tend to defer to the opinions of senior leaders. Makes sense – most incident command structures are highly hierarchical. But superiors might not always be physically present, or available. In those cases, teams still make decisions that they think mirror the decisions their superiors would have made.

    Similarly, teams often defer to individual practitioners who have superior experience. Having a sense of perspective (including the weight of experience) is fine, but uncritically and unquestioningly privileging the decisions of someone who’s been there before is a form of the champion bias.

  • Resistance. During a crisis, teams often get fixed on a set course of action. They refuse to deviate, even when the situation demands flexibility and recalibration.

    Anchoring is another form of resistance. It means prematurely committing to a set course of action, based on the first piece of information gathered or the first decision taken.

  • Informational pathologies. During crises, decision makers often have to base judgments on information that is unclear, faulty, and/or incomplete. The lack of situational awareness often exacerbates another all-too-human tendency to accept information that conforms to preexisting notions.

    Another informational pathology: decision makers might also limit sources of information just to people in the room. It’s the opposite of the well-known derailing behavior of seeking out myriad sources so as to avoid having to make a final decision.

    Additionally, crisis practitioners might often gather highly valuable information. However, there can be a tendency to not communicate those findings with relevant stakeholders, especially when practitioners don’t feel empowered, or when their findings contradict a prevailing consensus.

You’ve gotten a taste of what crisis decision derailers could affected your clients. Still, need to know what helpful strategies can mitigate their effects? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Download our Definitive Guide to Effective Crisis Decision Making to find out more.

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