The Three Cs of Decision Making

“…but above all else leaders are made or broken by the quality of their decisions” (Garvin & Roberto, 2001, p.2).  Leaders are faced with many decisions on a daily basis.  Some are made in an individual context, – Should I go to this lunch meeting? Or, how should I respond to this email? – and some are made in a team context – Should we invest in developing this new product?  Should we expand into this new market?  Should we merge with this organization?  However, regardless of the size or context of the decision, what remains the same is that leaders will be judged on the quality and outcomes of their decisions.

Because of this, it is important for leaders to study how to make quality decisions, especially decisions where a group or team is involved.  So, when you are faced with such a situation, remember to implement the “three Cs” of decision making: (1) conflict, (2) consideration, and (3) closure.

Conflict refers to the importance of cultivating conflict by encouraging people to speak their minds even if it means challenging the leader’s opinion or the group’s consensus (Garvin & Roberto, 2001).  There is a difference between negative conflict and constructive conflict.  Negative conflict attacks individuals whereas constructive conflict questions ideas and assumptions.  When a group of people are able to focus on the ideas on the table and not the individuals who presented the ideas, it is possible to identify opportunities and threats that may not have been evident before.  And, creating space for people to speak their mind, even when it contradicts with popular opinion, or your opinion, is also the first step to practicing consideration.

As a leader, the second step to practicing consideration is to make sure people feel as though you have listened to and considered their point of view – even if it is not the solution you ultimately choose.  Research has shown again and again that participants feel validated and more willing to support the outcome of the decision-making process when they feel as though they were given a legitimate opportunity to express their opinion on the matter.  You can give them this opportunity by asking questions, probing for deeper explanations, and making eye contact when others present their positions.

While the discussion generated through conflict and consideration is valuable, at some point, the discussion must come to an end.  For that reason, it is important for you to make a final decision and communicate it to the group, thus indicating closure. When communicating this final decision, you should outline a few reasons why you chose this course of action.  This will not only reinforce the participants’ experience of consideration, it will also cut down on office gossip as it prevents people from guessing your motives.

When taken together, the “three Cs” are meant to facilitate the generation of multiple ideas and alternatives and produce a well-thought-out solution.  The goal of using the three Cs is not to persuade the group to adopt your point of view, but rather, on identifying the best course of action (Garvin & Roberto, 2001).  To this end, the use of the three Cs encourages critical thinking and the challenging of one another’s ideas, but not the attack of one another.  “The implicit assumption is that a consummate solution will emerge from a test of strength among competing ideas rather than dueling positions” (p. 3).

Overall, while embracing this process is a good first step toward making quality decisions, you must also be on guard against practices which threaten to derail the decision-making process.  Such practices are otherwise known as heuristics, and we will discuss them more in a future post.  In the meantime, when working with your leadership teams, remember to focus on the three Cs of decision making: conflict, consideration, and closure. 

Referenced Works:

  • Garvin, D.A. & Roberto, M.A. (2001). What you don’t know about making decisions. Harvard Business Review, 79(8), 108-116.