"Strategic Storylining Framework" - an instruction manual for practice
Corporate leaders might be used to making decisions in complex and highly diffuse settings, but this has never been as difficult as in the current situation. As a result, some decisions will be made prematurely – or delayed indefinitely. Mae Leyrer, a business expert and long-time CEO, has developed the Strategic Storylining Framework, which is a facts-focused approach to systematic decision-making anchored in practice. It helps executives and managers make the best-possible decision in every situation. Read on to get a very practical checklist.
“There are no right or wrong decisions – you can only make the best-possible decision in any given situation,” says Mae Leyer, a turnaround manager who has served as a CEO for many years and recently branched out as a business coach for companies. “A wrong decision is better than no decision at all, because a decision always provides a foundation for progress – no decision means a gridlock,” she explains. The experienced manager has been fascinated with the art of making the best-possible decisions for a long time. “I’ve read countless books and investigated the decision-making models and frameworks described in them,” she recounts. Many approaches were too theoretical for her liking: “In the end, I started to work on my own practice-led approach for good decision-making,” Mae Leyrer says.
The WU Executive Academy’s alumna and President of its International Advisory Board is also the mastermind behind the Strategic Storylining Framework, which fosters clarity and a stronger focus on solutions. This approach has proven highly effective in her own professional practice: “Problems are often not as complex as they seem – we tend to overcomplicate them through overthinking. We can simplify many things by analyzing a situation step by step and making one decision after the other in a structured way.” Whenever we get overwhelmed or find it impossible to decide for a way to go, it is often because we try to solve several problems at once, or, in other words: we attempt to make several decisions all at once.
The most common and serious mistake in decision-making, however, usually occurs at an early stage. Managers frequently make premature decisions long before they have grasped the situation. They don’t take the time to get to the root of the problem.
This can have grave consequences: “If I haven’t understood a problem, I will not only look for a suitable solution in vain but create additional problems on top of that.” For this reason, she suggests relying on your teams’ and employees’ knowledge: “With the help of this framework, however, managers will gain more clarity even without outside help,” Leyrer specifies.
The first step in Mae Leyrer’s method is to analyse the situation and then form hypotheses (e.g. “Infection rates have been rising during the coronavirus pandemic”). As a next step, the problem is analyzed based on the existing facts (“If the figures keep rising, the need for ICU beds will exceed existing capacities”). In the “verdict” phase, the viability of various solution strategies is checked based on a simple points system, and the results are visualized in a ranking (“1: continue as before, 2: extend ICU capacities, 3: lower infection rates through restrictions”). “This will provide clarity in the decision-making process. But that’s not all: by collecting facts and potential solutions by assessing them based on their viability, you establish a clear foundation for your decision. This has the advantage of being able to be communicated transparently to your team,” Mae Leyrer explains.
When an organization is going through a transformation, decisions made are often met with opposition. It’s not always the decision as such that is the problem: sometimes, managers fail to clearly and transparently communicate their arguments and decision-making process to their staff. “It must be clear to staff members why a decision is the best possible one at the moment and how it was made,” Leyrer says. Moreover, it’s also important for managers to be able to understand in retrospect why and how past decisions were made. Storylining is about the process of comprehensively reflecting on background information, hypotheses, and arguments. “This happens automatically as you work your way through the framework,” Mae Leyrer explains.
As a final point, the business coach points out that a well-rounded interplay of rational mind and intuition is a key factor in decision-making: “Intuition is particularly important in the beginning, when you start looking at a problematic situation and working out hypotheses. When I develop solutions, I work with the facts: through the systematic approach my framework offers, I uncover biases and prejudices.” Mae Leyrer has successfully employed her framework for many years: “Without this systematic framework, I would have decided differently in tens of thousands of decisions I have made in my professional life. Intuition is extremely helpful, but it is not only made up of subconscious knowledge based on past experience but also biases – and biases is what we need to get rid of, especially if we want to try something new,” Mae Leyrer says.
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