3 Ways to Improve Executive Decision Making

by Katy Beloof

Being a leader in an organization means that you get to make the calls on big decisions. But often executives are insulated from day-to-day operations, a distance which can compromise effective decision making. Without firsthand or detailed information about a situation, executive isolation leads to disconnected organizations, misalignment across teams, and flawed business decisions. So how can you be sure that you’re making the best possible decisions for your business?

The good news is there are simple strategies that curb isolation and help you get the perspective you need to make better decisions without slowing down. Here’s a look at three ways to get the information you need to make better-informed decisions.

A woman looks up from her laptop to talk with someone.

1. Get Out of the Corner Office

Oftentimes senior executives are shielded from organizational problems that aren’t seen as worth their time. If you’re feeling isolated or disconnected from your organization, get out of your typical routine and see what’s going on on the ground. While not everyone can go to the extremes of the TV reality series Undercover Boss to see what’s really happening in their organizations, there are a few ways to get a clearer street view of your business.

One way to do this is to talk to your employees on the front lines. Maybe that means taking a day to shadow an employee once a quarter. Or maybe it’s regularly scheduled skip-level meetings, where you make it clear that you’re looking for candid feedback. If you’ve got writing or other quiet work to do, choose a different floor or area of the building to work on. You’ll get a sense of the vibe and the current buzz of different teams.


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Some organizations have made it a practice for all senior-level executives to spend some of their time fielding customer service calls. Not only does this give them direct contact with customers, but it also ensures that execs aren’t just talking to the happiest customers, or those larger accounts deemed by the business as worth executive time.   

2. See Data Firsthand

Once you reach the upper echelons of your organization, ask yourself whether you’re getting exposed to what’s happening firsthand and seeing raw data. Senior executives are often given “limited and filtered information about their operations, employees, and customers,” writes Ron Ashkenas in his Harvard Business Review article, How to Overcome Executive Isolation. He warns that “having a layer of handlers who make their own decisions about what the leader should or shouldn’t see exacerbates the isolation.”

Time constraints alone make some filtering of data a necessity, but if everything is being filtered and prioritized for you, ask yourself whether the big picture you’re being served up is accurate or just a little bit rosier than things look from other perspectives.

Data presented in slide decks are not only in danger of errors from manual data entry, there’s also the risk that those creating the decks might be making things look a little bit better than they are. That’s not to say that the data they share is false, but they may omit critical data, present data that’s not up-to-date, or paint a better picture of what’s going on than reality would show.

Finance dashboards show real-time financial information, such as cash flow and targets met.

To make sure that you’re seeing relevant data firsthand, have your team present data to you in the form of roll-up dashboards. Dashboards can pull data directly from their sources, so you know you’re seeing the most up-to-date information relevant to the decisions you need to make.  


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3. Encourage Your Team to Speak Up

Another way to get rid of blind spots and have the clearest view of the information you need to make better decisions is to coach your team to speak up and challenge you. Even if you feel like you have good relationships with your team members, this can change as you move into more senior roles.

Not only can people have a hard time speaking candidly to senior leadership, but one study suggests that people in power have a harder time listening to those who disagree with them. Cultivating cooperation and open communication can help with this potential shortcoming. So talk to your team, let them know that you sincerely want their feedback, and then listen when they share with you.

Encourage your team

Although Smartsheet is still a relatively small company, one of the things our leadership team does here is to elicit anonymous feedback from anyone in the company. This can be a great way to hear what’s going on on the ground as well as give employees who are higher up a chance to bring things to light without fear of repercussion. Our CEO reviews this feedback personally, so there are no filters on this candid employee feedback.

Emerge From Isolation to Accelerate Decisions

Chances are, you sit where you are today because you have a track record of successful decision making and work execution. You were put in place to make great decisions and keep your business running ahead at full speed.

There’s no way you can stay on top of every single detail and activity that’s happening around your organization. How this affects your ability to keep a pulse on your business and continue to make effective decisions will be up to you. Getting the right information at the right time helps you make the best calls and continue to grow your organization.

Watch the video below to learn how Cisco uses Smartsheet dashboards to improve transparency and accelerate decision making within their organization: