Shared decision-making is a process that draws on the combined knowledge of many stakeholders to make smarter, more effective decisions.
How does shared decision-making happen? What makes it different from collaboration? And how can you adapt a shared decision-making mindset if you’re used to making top-down decisions?
Shared decision-making is different from collaboration
Shared decision-making and collaboration both involve groups of people working together to achieve a goal. However, the goals for shared decision-making and collaboration are subtly different.
The shared decision-making process brings people together to decide on something. Collaboration brings people together to produce work.
Take the example of a product manager who needs to decide which new features to include in a software update.
In a shared decision-making process, the manager might talk to:
- The product planning, engineering and marketing people on the team for input
- Customer service representatives and salespeople who hear directly from customers about how they use the current version of the software and what they’d like to be able to do with it
- Top customers about what they need
- Other product managers in different regions to get their perspective and learn how they approach product updates
When it’s time to build the features that will be included, the product manager may collaborate with some or all those stakeholders to produce them.
Shared decision-making delivers multiple benefits
Health care and education are two fields that often use shared decision-making to improve outcomes for patients and students. But any organization can benefit from shared decision-making, because the process brings in perspectives and information that decision-makers might otherwise miss.
Here are some advantages shared decision-making can deliver.
1. Better employee engagement
When employees know that their input matters and see how it can contribute to business goals, they’re more likely to be engaged.
And when decisions are a topic of discussion, employees can share and discuss ideas. That also boosts employee engagement and can lead to more innovative ideas about how to make those decisions.
2. Better customer loyalty
When you’re planning to make a decision that will impact your customers, it makes sense to hear from them.
In a shared decision-making process, like our product manager example, you can gather insights from your sales, customer service and technical support teams and major customers.
You can also survey your customers and use that data to inform your decisions. When customers know you’re listening to and delivering on their needs and wants, they’re more likely to stay engaged with your product.
3. Improved change management
You may have heard the statistic that 70% of change initiatives fail due to poor communication and a lack of buy-in.
But with shared decision-making, communication is more open and frequent among leaders, front-line managers and employees. That can improve buy-in at all levels.
4. Fewer unintended consequences
No one wants to make a business decision that goes badly. When you make a decision on your own, you may not have all the information you need, which raises the risk of making a bad decision. That’s bad for the business and could be bad for your job, too.
When you get more perspectives and information during the decision-making process, you’re less likely to run into problems you didn’t anticipate once the decision is made.
How to put shared decision-making into practice
If you’re new to management, or if you’re used to working in organizations with a top-down decision-making culture, moving to shared decision-making can take some getting used to.
Here are five steps to take to make the switch.
1. Start small
Focus on small changes you can make within your own team or department first.
Trying to make changes that affect groups outside your immediate sphere of influence is too much to take on when you’re just getting used to the shared decision-making process.
2. Start early in the decision-making process
The sooner you gather the information you need, the more likely it is you’ll make good decisions. You’ll also save time.
For example, if you know your employee benefits portal needs an overhaul, it’s better to talk to your stakeholders before you start deciding what elements should be part of the new site.
3. Make it a natural part of your workplace conversations
Finding time to loop people into the decision-making process can be a challenge. And making the discussions too formal can make stakeholders uncomfortable.
One way to ease into the process is to start asking questions related to your upcoming decisions whenever you’re chatting with team members, customers and colleagues.
When you’re always seeking input, people may be more comfortable answering your questions – and they may start coming to you with their ideas.
4. Ask exploratory questions
It’s hard to make a good decision if you don’t know what you don’t know. Asking your stakeholders open-ended questions will give you more useful information than yes-no questions.
For example, do you need to write job descriptions for new roles? Make a point of asking team members who’ve done that job, or one like it, what skills they think are essential and why.
Encourage your stakeholders in the decision-making process to ask you and each other questions, too. They may raise issues you hadn’t considered.
5. Know when to call a meeting
Casual conversations can give you initial information to help you see where your decision-making process needs to go. However, when a decision will affect your entire team, you’ll need to get everyone together to talk about it for the sake of transparency, brainstorming and buy-in.
The leader owns the decision
With so many people contributing to the shared decision-making process, it’s natural to wonder who takes responsibility for the finalized decision.
The leader or manager guiding those conversations is responsible for the decision and the outcome.
In the example of the product manager planning a software update, the manager may get a dozen suggestions for new features from other stakeholders. Based on those conversations along with other factors like budget considerations, it’s the manager’s responsibility to decide which ones to include.
If that decision turns out to be the wrong call, a good manager will take responsibility for it, rather than use shared decision-making to share the blame. However, with all the stakeholder information that shared decision-making provides, a bad call is less likely than if the manager was making the decision alone.
By tapping into the collective knowledge and insights of your employees, colleagues and customers, shared decision-making strengthens your ability to make choices that benefit your company, your customers and your career. Download our complimentary magazine, The Insperity guide to leadership and management, for more ways to sharpen your skills.