“In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity” – John F. Kennedy.

Good and effective decision making with imperfect information is a challenge under normal circumstances. How do you handle this process in times of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic?

big picture

Take a step back and focus on the “big picture”.

Some of the factors that hinder decision making during a crisis are obvious, others are more subtle.

  • The overwhelming volume of major decisions.
  • Fear, resulting from the sheer scale of the challenge.
  • Uncertainty, and the “fog of war.”
  • Rapidly changing circumstances that create a dynamic decision-making environment.
  • Imperfect information.
  • Intricate ramifications and interdependencies among multiple agents.

Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Decision-making during a Crisis

Uncertainty is one of the most prominent enemies of the crisis-ridden decision-maker. The very concept of uncertainty is something that science is struggling to define.

To brighten the gloom and doom of uncertainty, you do not need to be a connoisseur of scientifically proposed taxonomies and coping methods. Instead, focus your efforts on data-driven decision making.

Address Uncertainty

Enhance the data-driven decision-making capabilities of your organization. A data-driven decision-making system consists of data acquisition and three subsequent cascades that turn raw data into intelligence.

Bits and pieces of data do not carry much meaning in themselves. When you have sufficient data, you can turn the seemingly useless crumbs into information to fuel decision-making. If you connect pieces of information, you gain knowledge. When you add up several bodies of knowledge, you get intelligence, which is what you need to make optimal decisions with limited information.

Step Back

Give yourself a break and try to gain a bird’s eye view of the situation. Executive coaching can tell you what to do, but experience shows that many CEO’s allow events to carry them away in a crisis. Do not put your head down and try to push through the endless string of tactical decisions the crisis throws at you. Delegate such decisions to competent reports and rise to the level of strategic decision-making.

Imagine looking down upon the situation from a vantage point and ask yourself a series of relevant questions, such as:

  • Are we missing the “big picture?”
  • What is important right now?
  • What course are events likely to follow from here?
  • What measures could we take now that might pay off later?

A Crisis is Not the Time to Go it Alone

Involve others in decision making. Set up a round table of decision-makers and subject matter experts, and give a couple of seats to inter-departmental stakeholders. Allowing other stakeholders to watch the meeting and contribute ideas in an organized manner is a reasonable approach as well.

Not everyone will have a vote at this real or virtual table but everyone will have a voice. Choose your experts and relevant stakeholders wisely.

Compassion is a Precious Commodity during a Crisis

Do not underestimate the power of compassion. Keep a human-centric view of the situation. Let your team know that you care about them and that you are aware of their emotional tribulations.

Do not commit the mistake of isolating yourself and your managers to facilitate decision making and in the name of professionalism.

In a crisis, always take the high road of compassion.

Delegate Tactical Decision Making to the Right People

Some of your best “peacetime” leaders may not be suitable for crisis leadership. Their inner- and outer-core competencies my not match the requirements of the situation.

Any CEO coach will tell you that in a crisis, you need to delegate tactical decision-making to leaders who have shown great personal resilience and are not afraid to make unpopular decisions and break the bad news.



Back to blog