The art of making better decisions

This article was originally written and published by Die Wirtschaft on June 18th, 2021



It has never been as difficult for managers to make the right decision as it is today. That can lead us to acting hastily – or to postpone decisions indefinitely. Business expert and longtime CEO Mae Leyrer has developed a practical framework for systematic, fact-based decision making that allows leaders to choose the best possible option. A brief instruction manual for practice.

Employees need to understand how decisions are made in business, says business expert Mae Leyrer.

There are no right or wrong decisions – there is only the best possible decision in a given situation,” says Mae Leyrer, who was a longtime CEO and turnaround manager and now consults with companies as a business coach. “A wrong decision is better than none at all, because decisions are the foundation for progress – and without decisions, things remain stagnant,” Leyrer says. Early on, the experienced manager grappled with how to make the best possible decisions. “I read countless books and worked my way through decision models and frameworks,” she states. Much of it was too theoretical for her – “eventually, I started creating my own practical guide to making good decisions,” explains Mae Leyrer.


The right way to make a good decision – and the biggest mistakes 

In her Strategic Storylining Framework, the alumna and President of the International Advisory Board of the WU Executive Academy outlines how we can achieve greater clarity and solution focus – and what has worked for her for many years: “Problems are often not as complex as they seem – we sometimes complicate them merely through our thinking. If we look at the situation piece by piece and make one decision at a time in a structured, step-by-step manner, we can simplify a lot of things.” When we lose the overview or cannot make a clear decision, it is often because “we want to solve several problems at the same time or make several decisions in one go.


But the widespread cardinal error in the decision-making process starts earlier, says Leyrer: “Managers often make decisions too quickly, without having grasped the situation, the background to the problem and the problem itself. They take too little time to understand the issue,” she analyzes. This is sometimes fatal, she points out: “If I don’t grasp the problem, not only do I not find a suitable solution, but I also create further problems.” It would often be helpful to include the knowledge of teams and individual employees in this process: “With the framework, however, managers can also achieve greater clarity without outside help,” says Leyrer.


The process: Strategic Storylining Framework

In the beginning, Mae Leyrer suggests analyzing the situation, including background and hypothesis generation for example: (Infection numbers rise during Corona pandemic). Then, one illustrates the problem with the facts at hand (e.g. If the numbers continue to rise, intensive care units will be overloaded). In the verdict phase, different solution strategies are analyzed for their feasibility using a simple scoring system and ranked accordingly (1. continue as before, 2. expand ICU capacity, 3. reduce case numbers using restrictions). “This brings clarity to the decision-making process and not only that: the collected facts, solution paths and the examination and weighting of the possible solutions in terms of their feasibility provide a clear basis for communicating the decision and its process transparently to one’s team,” Mae Leyrer elaborates.

Why the common thread is crucial

Particularly during a transformational process, decisions repeatedly lead to resistance among the workforce. This does not not always happen because of the decision itself, but also because the arguments and the decision-making process have not been not communicated transparently and comprehensibly to the employees. “Employees need to understand why this decision is the best possible one at the moment and how it came about,” says Leyrer. In the future, it is important to understand why and how decisions were in the past for company managers themselves Storylining refers to the process of preparing all background information, hypotheses and arguments in an understandable way. “This happens on the side as you work through the framework,” says Mae Leyrer.

The interplay of ratio and intuition is important in the decision-making process, explains the business coach: “Intuition is particularly important at the beginning when looking at the problem situation and setting up the hypotheses. In finding solutions, I rely on facts: by systematically working through my framework and adding relevant facts, biases, i.e. prejudices and preconceptions, are uncovered and eliminated.” Mae Leyrer has been testing her framework herself for many years: “I myself would have made every single one of my tens of thousands decisions in my professional life differently without this systematic framework. While intuition is helpful, it is composed not only of the unconscious values of experience, but also of biases – and these must be eliminated, especially if we want to venture into new things,” says Mae Leyrer.