Let’s say you are faced with a tough problem. You have wrestled with it for a while and now you have to make a decision. One approach is to use what I call the three by three method.
You start by considering many options. You narrow this down to three choices.
- Your current best option, the CBO.
- A sound realistic alternative.
- An outlandish idea that might just work. This is deliberately quite different from a) and b). Indeed it might be the opposite of a) the CBO.
Very often we seem to face a choice which is binary – yes or no, go or stay etc. It is always worth trying to find a third option, even if it at first appears a little ridiculous.
For each of these options you now ponder three questions:
- What is the best that could happen if this worked well
- What could go wrong? What is the worst that could happen?
- What are the dependencies and next steps to make this happen?
You compare and contrast these possibilities and plans. Then you make a decision using both your head; what logically makes sense? – and your heart; what do you feel is best?
For example, imagine you are a marketing director and one of your team, Fred, has been under-performing for some time. His creative ideas are poor and he has lost the respect of other team members. You select three options.
- Fire Fred. The current best option.
- Put Fred on a training course to improve his performance
- Promote Fred to a management position!
Now we consider three aspects for each choice.
A1) Fred goes and we replace him with someone fresh and creative. Team performance improves.
A2) Fred goes but sues us for wrongful dismissal because we did not follow correct procedure. The process takes a lot of time and it makes us look sloppy and incompetent.
A3) We discuss the next steps with HR and make sure we do it right.
B1) Fred completes the training. His performance improves and he is much more motivated.
B2) Fred completes the training but his performance does not improves and we are back to the current situation with a lot of time and effort wasted.
B3) We discuss Fred’s issues in depth with Fred and ask him to identify courses which might help. We carefully assess whether these courses would really work.
C1) Promoting Fred within the Marketing department does not make any sense. But although his creative skills are low his operational and admin skills are good. Perhaps we should look elsewhere in the company. He might make a good logistics executive or mail room manager.
C2) We can find no suitable position in which we case we are no worse off than today and are back to choices A or B.
C3) We discuss Fred with HR, review his skills and identify any suitable vacancies.
We now weigh up these different scenarios and choose a way forward. We might dismiss B and instead talk to HR to explore C. We are now aware that if we choose to fire Fred we must follow proper procedure to avoid a calamity.
Of course if you have a really major decision to make then you would use a more detailed and thorough analysis but for most management decisions this technique works well. It is quick and it can be used by individuals or groups.
Why should you use the three by three approach? First the mind can review and compare three options in some depth more easily than say five or six. Secondly the third option is deliberately included to stimulate and provoke your thoughts to consider something unconventional. This can lead to a fresh and better solution. Thirdly, by considering both the best and worst possible outcomes we can see benefits but also avoid bad options or bad implementations which could trip us up.
I suggest you try this approach as follows. Select your current biggest issue. Generate a great many ideas and then let them rest for a while. Tomorrow morning (maybe on your commute to work) select A, B and C as above. Go through the three by three analysis and then make a decision. Don’t let the issue fester for a long time. It is often the case that a wrong decision is better than no decision because at least you are moving forward. If it turns out that you made the wrong decision have the courage to admit it and correct it.