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5 Questions that Lead to Better Decision Making Protocols

Roxi Bahar Hewertson
By Roxi Bahar Hewertson , President and CEO at Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and
August 7, 2017
An image of a napkin with a diagram showing that the same old way of thinking leads to the same old results.

If a decision matters to you, then make your decision matter! Leaders get into trouble far too often simply because they don’t have good decision-making protocols in place on their team or in their organizations. See if any of these all too common scenarios sound familiar:

  • People keep wondering, “Who is making the decision about...?” and feel they are powerless to do anything in the meantime.
  • Someone comes up to you and says, “Why didn’t anyone tell me about that decision; it impacts my work?”
  • Another person says, “Well, if she’d already made the decision, why did she ask me my opinion?”
  • You hear, “When will he decide – he’s holding up everything at my end!”

There is such a simple way to prevent these and many other “dropped balls” from happening. Once you get in the habit of asking these 5 questions, each and every time, you’ll find it could take as few as 60 seconds to get to the answers. Even better, it will save you and others frustration, confusion, hard feelings, lost time and lost opportunities. And…you’ll gain more respect from your direct reports, peers, boss, and those you serve, because they can trust you to make decisions well.



1. What is the decision that needs to be made? BE EXPLICIT. What exactly needs to be decided? If you can articulate it, you know and if you can’t, you don’t. So begin with a lot of clarity.

2. Whose decision is it? BE EXPLICIT. This is critical to know and communicate upfront. Are you the decision maker? Is this a group decision that you will NOT override? Do you want input or a decision from others? Is the decision someone else’s? People don’t usually mind what the answer is – but they mind a lot if you pretend it’s something it’s not, as would be the case if you’ve already made the decision and are pretending it’s still up for discussion.

3. What method will we use to make the decision? Will this be a consensus decision – where everyone has to be able to both live with and support it? Is it a majority, plurality, 2/3, unanimous agreement, or something else?

4. When will the decision be made? The timeline for the decision is important for people to know, so the impacts of the decision can be managed well and people can get on with their work. Taking too long or not long enough can be frustrating and create unintended and even dysfunctional outcomes.

5. How and to whom will the decision be communicated? This is so often overlooked, and yet the success of a decision depends so much on how well it is communicated. Consider who needs to know, who is the messenger, how it will be shared, and through what means – in person, by email, over a loud speaker…Often the choice of messenger sends a message all it’s own – is it you, a team, a Board? It will feel very different to the receivers depending on who sends the message.

Now that you have a great process and you are using it every time, there are 4 key perspectives to consider that will help you actually make the decision in a more thorough and well-rounded way:

  • What are the FACTS I/we know and/or need to know?
  • What are the POSSIBILITIES that could evolve with this decision?
  • What THINGS will be impacted by this decision? (budget, space, travel, etc.)
  • How will PEOPLE be impacted by this decision? (employees, faculty, students, alumni, etc.)

When you are proactive in answering your decision-making questions well and use these four perspectives, you are running your organization instead of letting it run you. It takes a truckload of time and energy to clean up the mess that happens when your decision-making norm is reactive or ad hoc. That means investing upfront in thinking about and answering these questions first and then… executing well. You will be amazed at how much more smoothly your organization can run when you make a habit of making decisions well. The big bonus…a lot less stress on you!


Roxi Bahar Hewertson is a leadership expert with over three decades of practical experience in the worlds of higher education, business, and non-profits. She is an organizational consultant, executive coach, motivational speaker, and author of the acclaimed book, “Lead Like it Matters...Because it Does"  leaders with a step-by-step roadmap and practical tools to achieve great results and the creator of the award winning course, “Leading with Impact: Your Ripple Effect. She is the President and CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and She can be reached at

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