Five steps to effective decision making in an organisational ecosystem
Updated: Apr 6
For the last few weeks, here in the UK, government ministers have promised to increase the number of COVID-19 tests. However, despite protestations that targets are being met, from the health minister, Matt Hancock, the public perception is that the UK is way behind its peers in Europe. Never has it been more evident that results are delivered by ecosystems of organisations, not command and control.
Yesterday, in his press conference, Hancock explained why things were not moving as quickly as the public and medical profession would like. Unlike Germany, he argued, the UK does not have a "huge diagnostics industry. We have the best scientific labs in the world, but we did not have the scale. Also, there's been a shortage of both swabs and reagents."
Nonetheless, he committed to scaling up from the current 10,000 tests per day, a rate of which many are sceptical, to 100,000 by the end of April.
Challenged today, in an interview with the BBC's health editor, Hugh Pym, Hancock talked about, "partnerships with universities, research institutes and companies like Amazon and Boots (the UK chemist chain). Over time we will have many different commercial partners."
It was clear that UK testing depends on a complex ecosystem of autonomous organisations, each of those an ecosystem of partners and specialists.
He went on to say, "I'’ve got to mobilise the whole life sciences industry. I need the whole of the British life sciences industry to pull together. You can only do that by putting that goal out to do 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month."
The way he said it made we wonder when he realised that it would be a complex endeavour and, moreover, how he saw his role? This is a question, not a criticism, as I have no first-hand knowledge of what he or his team are doing behind the scenes.
And actually, he was wrong about the basis of Germany's testing success. It isn't as he asserted thanks to big companies such as Roche. It is the ecosystem of universities, government agencies sand private labs. Between 2 and 8 March, 43 laboratories conducted 36,067 tests. Last week, 97 laboratories conducted 313,957 tests.
It did, however, remind of something that management legend Peter Drucker wrote about decision making, way back in 1967. In an article entitled The Effective Decision, in Harvard Business Review, he wrote that there are six steps in effective decision making:
"1. Classifying the problem. Is it generic? Is it exceptional and unique? Or is it the first manifestation of a new genus for which a rule has yet to be developed?
2. Defining the problem. What are we dealing with?
3. Specifying the answer to the problem. What are the “boundary conditions”?
4. Deciding what is “right,” rather than what is acceptable, in order to meet the boundary conditions.. What will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable?
5. Building into the decision the action to carry it out. What does the action commitment have to be? Who has to know about it?
6. Testing the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events. How is the decision being carried out? Are the assumptions on which it is based appropriate or obsolete?"
His wisdom endures. Since Drucker wrote his article, organisations and the world they inhabit have become increasingly complex. His advice has never been more relevant. One hopes that Hancock and the other government ministers are doing much more than "putting that goal out", when they describe what they are doing to deal with the crisis.
For more thoughts about thinking like a gardener, not a mechanic, you can check out my blog. And look out my forthcoming book: Gardeners not Mechanics: how to cultivate change at work.