Multiple decisions occur every day in most organizations, and in a variety of contexts, from budget prioritization, to sequencing of project tasks, to the best wording for an advertisement. Often these decisions occur in the context of corporate meetings, which tend to be viewed as wasteful and unproductive at least 25% of the time. Virtual decision-making and prioritization tools aim to change this paradigm, with the potential of bringing together geographically dispersed participants to achieve more successful meeting outcomes than most in-person meetings.

Over the past several years, virtual decision-making and prioritization tools have become popular among C-suite executives and mid-managers in public and private organizations. From the simulation of medical decisions, to IT prioritization for public transport organizations, to determining whom to cut on NFL teams, automated decision tools help organizations “cut to the chase.” They make meetings (both virtual and in-person), and their resultant decisions more streamlined and effective.

When Could Virtual Decision-Making be Used?

Many organizations have difficulty identifying how and when virtual decision-making can be applied because they do not adequately know what qualifies as a “decision.” Below are some examples of ”decisions” in which a virtual tool could help your organization achieve desired outcomes:

  • Activities that involve developing a plan
  • Prioritization of multiple objectives
  • Rating employees, customers, or stakeholders against various characteristics
  • Obtaining a group consensus
  • Consolidating opinions of subject matter experts and weighing their opinions against multiple criteria
  • Brainstorming sessions that involve developing and vetting ideas rapidly

Getting the Most Out of Your Decision Tools

After an organization has made an investment in an automated decision tool, success is not guaranteed unless an organization has access to problem-specific subject matter experts.

For example, a tool may be purchased for strategic planning purposes. However, an organization may not have staff members with experience developing strategic plans. The likely result will be many blank stares at computer screens and undeserved scapegoating of a “useless” IT tool.

In order for a decision tool to guide effective decision-making, an organization must either identify appropriate subject-matter experts on staff or hire experts to serve as facilitators. In either event, the ideal experts will be trained in both the content area being discussed and the capabilities of the decision tool.

How does subject matter expertise impact effective use of an automated decision tool?

Subject matter experts:

  • Will know if something is a decision or a rule (e.g., the law requires this so there’s nothing to decide)
  • Are more likely to know the nuances of the decision they must make (e.g., is it a budget issue or a prioritization issue)
  • Will know if the conversation about the decision is the right one to be having, or has diverted from the true focus
  • Will be able to structure the decision tool to most effectively guide the conversation

In the end, automated decision tools could be a boon to any organization – if for no other reason than decisions can quickly be made virtually. But in order to achieve success, you will need to have experts in both the content and the technology. A lack of internal experts does not preclude success – it just means that an organization will need to make the decision whether to procure outside expertise in either of these areas. But don’t worry; an automated decision tool could help with that.

Co-written by Andrew Ohu, former Senior Consultant with The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc.

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