An original article by Decision Free Solutions
The approach of Decision Free Solutions
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The challenges ‘communication between experts and non-experts’ and ‘hierarchical decision making’ pose
When the project’s lawyer told me that the global leader in cancer care solutions was going to sue us, I replied “okay”. It was the exact opposite of my body’s reply to me. This was not okay. Being challenged over the way we procured complex and expensive medical equipment was the last thing I needed. Holding my phone against a burning cheek I tried to listen. But the realisation how this development could derail the project and put me into the spotlight, was too gripping.
The project I managed was to realise a proton therapy center, including the purchase of the treatment equipment. The expertise required to design and build these machines is staggering. But as is the case for practically every industry building complex and innovative solutions, the main challenge isn’t complexity or cost — it is communication. On one side companies are dedicated to build quality machines as complicated as spacecrafts, on the other side are healthcare organisations with a passion to continuously improve the cancer care for their patients. Both parties need each other. Both employ motivated and talented people. But as they don’t speak each other’s language, every solution is also readily perceived as a potential risk.
Not speaking the same language is a problem when you need the other’s expertise to achieve a desired outcome. When two experts are to solve a problem they will collaborate. They will share information, use technical terms and talk details. When an expert is to solve a problem for a non-expert, however, “collaboration” is not an option. The challenge now is “communication”. Is the problem non-ambiguous, can it be solved, is the expert really an expert, can the non-expert eschew inspecting and controlling and let the expert get on with it, how will the non-expert feel confident?
It is a situation we ourselves encounter time and time again in many different situations. How to be certain the contractor that is renovating your bathroom will expertly build it? How is the patient confronted with the chronic implications of a shattered shoulder expected to share decision making with an orthopedist? Why does the sales department keep on selling client-requested functionalities the engineering department knows are both unneeded and costly to build?
These situations can readily lead to botched outcomes, wasted resources and cost increases. Together with doubt, stress, disappointment and or frustration. What we are in need of is an expert who understands what we want, and who can tell us why what needs to be done without confusing us. Experts minimise risk for us. They oversee the situation, they foresee what needs to be done, and, if we let them, they will help us to achieve our goals against minimal resources.
This is also the aim in procurement, where the divide in expertise between the two organisations is not unique, only more explicit. But also in procurement the problem of how one expert is to communicate with an expert-in-something-else has not been satisfactorily solved. Which is quite the understatement.
If a hospital wants to fly to the Moon and back, it would be ludicrous for the hospital to try to define a long list of technical specifications for a spacecraft, and then attempt to control how it is built. The hospital wouldn’t know where to begin. It would be ludicrous, but — in lieu of an approach overcoming the challenge of communication — it is how most organisations still operate today. It is, in fact, how most organisations still hire and manage their employees: first tell them how to do their work, then inspect and control what they are doing.
We tried a different approach. Rather than listing requirements we shared with the vendors the aims for our centre, our own expertise, and the context in which the centre had to operate. Instead of flooding us with detailed technical information we invited the vendors to ask us questions. Then we asked them to explain — in a few pages — which of their performances were most relevant to achieve our aims.
By the time the pages were due, a full year after the start of the process, we were still blissfully unaware of how these different spaceships worked. But simply by observing the vendors’ behaviour we had developed a fairly good idea which one was most likely to make our centre a success.
To be able to minimise risk an expert has to understand the situation. An expert must be aware of the conditions, and how they may change going forward. This may require experience, but more importantly it requires the ability to perceive. Perceiving the environment, the changes therein, and how they impact upon the conditions. It is a precondition to derive causality and gain understanding. Someone’s or some organisation’s ability to perceive is a trait that shines through in a range of other behavioural characteristics. Expertise is something that can be observed.
We scored the submittals and the established vendor ranking bore out our observations. But now a single phone call threatened to undo it all. The vendor ranked last reacted in knee-jerk fashion. I couldn’t focus my attention on what the lawyer said, but not because I worried about the outcome of the lawsuit — I didn’t. It was because of this one thought which made me acutely aware of how exposed and powerless I really was: how were the board members in the steering group going to react to this development?
What made the blood rush to my face was the realisation it took only one decision by one board member in the steering group to undo it all. If only one of them felt the need to exert the power that their position in the hierarchy granted them — to make choices without having to substantiate them — then all our careful considerations would be nulled. If only one of them had an existing relationship with the suing vendor, or didn’t grasp the issue at hand, or felt after the fact it was irresponsible of me to think outside the box, then all could be over in a heartbeat.
To identify and then fully utilise some else’s expertise you have to overcome challenges in communication. But you also have to overcome the challenge of hierarchical decision making. It allows people to make unsubstantiated choices which may not be appealed, increase risk, and more often than not cause plenty of frustration.
I failed to hear the lawyer because at that moment I literally felt the fragility, the madness, the wasted resources, the frustration and the risk involved in how organisations operate. If we all have a stake in achieving the goals of the organisation, what is making it so difficult?
It was this one phone call that set me on a path to find a new way to resolve frustration. To define the steps, the principles and the observations to identify and then to utilise expertise. To embrace expertise as a way to free up resources and to make change happen. In short, a generic approach to utilise everyone’s expertise to achieve the goals we believe in.
Resolve frustration, utilise expertise, free up resources, make change happen
Decision Free Solutions (DFS) is an approach to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in. DFS’ motto: Resolve frustration, Utilise expertise, Free up resources, Make change happen. This motto can be read as a sequence of related steps, but it also refers to the different motivations an organisation may have to implement the approach of DFS.
Frustrations — the feeling of being upset as a result of something you can’t change or achieve — are very common in both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes the source of frustration lies within you, at other times they are caused by others. Frustrations are deeply personal. But frustrations are also deeply revealing — what does frustration make you do?
Expert individuals and organisations perceive the interconnectedness of their environment. It is what allows them to identify and to resolve frustrations — be it their own or that of others. For many organisations it is their mission to resolve frustrations — be it for their clients or simply to right a wrong. It may also be organisational frustration that needs to be resolved — for not being able to identify, utilise and retain expertise, or for not succeeding in communicating it.
Either way, the desire to resolve frustration is a powerful drive. As it is linked to expertise, it is also a de facto requirement to successfully implement DFS. It is what lead to the creation of DFS in the first place.
We are all experts in something. We all have skills, talents, creativity and experience we love to express while achieving goals we care about. Combined with sociality — achieving goals we care about together — it is what brings us joy.
Many of us find joy in their work, many others don’t, or only to an extent. Most organisations hire us because they need to fill a certain position. But in hiring us they hire not merely what the organisation is in need of, they hire all of our skills, all of our talents, creativity and motivations. But then we often find that large amount of resources are spent on directing and controlling our work. That our ideas can be overruled, discarded or ignored — all without substantiation. Which causes frustration.
Organisations have to meet many challenges themselves. They have to operate and to compete in an ever more complex and dynamic environment. They are constantly exposed to new risks and have to change. Both minimising risk and making this change happen requires expertise, creativity and resources.
The challenges which employees and organisations face are related. In fact, they are one and the same. Frustrations can be resolved, risks minimised and change realised — through the utilisation of the organisation’s collective expertise. The approach of DFS makes expertise matter.
Free up resources
If organisations utilise our expertise, they reduce both the risk to attempt to achieve a desired outcome which cannot be achieved, as well as the risk that the desired outcome would be achieved, but against many more resources than necessary.
If organisations create the conditions to utilise the collective expertise of their employees there is no need for layers of management directing and inspecting what everyone is doing. In these organisations “assurance” takes the place of “control”, freeing up large amounts of resources.
If organisations utilise our expertise they improve the employee condition, which includes joy, health, motivation and loyalty. A healthier workforce which is both motivated and more loyal to the organisation automatically frees up still more resources.
Freeing up resources is often a goal or even a necessity in and of itself — to do the same or more for less. Freeing up resources can also be a requirement to be able to make change happen. Through making expertise matter the approach of DFS frees up resources.
Making change happen
Change can be many things. It can be the creation of something entirely new, it can be an ongoing adaptation to the dynamics of a marketplace or society, it can be the righting of a wrong, it can be simply a different way of doing the same thing.
Change can be driven by a desire to resolve frustrations, it can be simply a necessity, and it can be both. Whatever the change is, there will be many challenges. Change involves risk, and resources and — in the absence of belief in the change — also the overcoming of resistance.
DFS minimises risk and frees up the resources change requires by utilising all available expertise in achieving the goal you and your organisation believe in. The approach of DFS helps those who want to resolve frustrations and those who want to make change happen to make it happen.
Introducing the approach of Decision Free Solutions
What is “Decision Free Solutions”?
Decision Free Solutions (DFS) is the systematic and generic answer to the questions posed to organisations active in a competitive and dynamic environment, who are in need of attracting and retaining expertise, and who must make informed choices in time-critical or new environments.
DFS’ systematic and generic answer at the same time makes use of the observation of a range of an individual’s or organisation’s characteristics to identify expertise and to predict future behaviour.
Decision Free Solutions is an approach to utilise all available expertise to achieve the goals you believe in. DFS’ motto: Resolve frustration, Utilise expertise, Free up resources, Make change happen.
In DFS “expertise” is the ability of an expert or expert organisation to minimise risk in achieving a particular desired outcome. A “decision” is a choice not fully substantiated to contribute to achieving this desired outcome.
The two challenges DFS sets out to overcome are the absence of a common language when experts and non-experts are to communicate, and the prevalent belief that decision making is either someone’s prerogative or presents some kind of closure — without explicitly acknowledging that with every decision made the risk the goal will not be achieved increases.
DFS enables the communication between experts and non-experts through the consistent and appropriate application of the five principles of TONNNO (“transparency”, “objectivity”, “no details”, “no requirements” and “no relationship”) in the four steps of DICE (defining the desired outcome, identifying expertise, clarifying how the desired outcome will be achieved (the plan), and executing the plan).
In DFS decisions are replaced with substantiated choices through the utilisation of expertise. When decisions cannot be avoided DFS ensures they are made by the best available expert. Crucially, DFS identifies each decision as a risk to be considered for further risk management.
In DFS all choices which lack substantiation has to how they will contribute to a desired outcome are decisions. This includes the choices made in contracts, checklists, schedules and protocols. Implementing DFS results in a shift from “control” to “assurance”, as well as a critical and continuous evaluation of rules, guidelines and requirements.
DFS’ philosophy is based on two pillars. The first pillar is the concept of causality: if you perceive all the conditions (causes) of an event you can predict its outcome (effect). A high degree of perceptiveness is a prerequisite to become an expert. The greater someone’s or some organisation’s perceptiveness, the greater this person’s or organisation’s ability to predict future outcomes and thus to minimise risk. This is what defines expertise.
The second pillar is that certain behavioural characteristics (of both individuals and organisations) are logically linked and related to the ability to perceive. If you are able to clearly observe some related characteristics, then other characteristics — which may be impossible to observe — can be readily presumed. Depending on the clarity and the consistency of the behavioural observations made, the level of perceptiveness can be determined with a certain degree of likelihood. Expertise, or absence thereof, is something that can be observed.
DFS is a generic and systematic approach. It is systematic in that it is an approach based on four steps (DICE), the application of five principles (TONNNO), and the role of the Decision Free Leader (DFL) responsible for ensuring the steps and principles are adhered to.
It is generic in that DFS can be applied in any field where expertise is to be identified and or utilised to achieve a desired outcome. Applying the approach of DFS to a specific field results in a method which inherits the steps and principles of DFS. Applying DFS e.g. in the field of management results in the method of DF Management, in procurement in the method of DF Procurement, in birthing in the method of DF Birthing, etc. etc.
Finally, DFS is an entirely logical approach, requiring no assumptions, no leap of faith, no degree in semantics, no submission to contracts, no special training — and it is entirely for free.
As all organisations make use of people with different expertise to achieve desired outcomes, the approach of DFS will here be introduced in the context of organisations. However, as the approach of DFS is truly generic, it is not restricted to use in or by organisations.
Why should DFS matter to your organisation?
Decision Free Solutions is an approach for organisations to systematically and maximally utilise all available expertise in achieving their desired outcomes.
DFS is essential in a resource-critical, competitive, dynamic and rapidly changing environment, as only the maximal utilisation of expertise will minimise risk and minimise the need for increasingly scarce resources.
DFS is essential as only a culture-of-making-expertise-matter will both attract and retain the expertise organisations need to realise their mission and make change happen.
DFS is essential as in time-critical or new environments the simple observation of a range of characteristics allows for an assessment of available expertise, and thus the prediction of future behaviour. This enables the organisation to make informed choices on how to spend resources, what to focus on, which strategy to implement, etc. — and do so ahead of time.
How does DFS differ from existing approaches?
To optimally utilise available expertise is not a new goal. There are a number of existing approaches that share that goal. Among them are the “self-management” principle of Teal organisations (e.g. Holacracy ), Lean , Vested (in supply chains, ) and the Best Value Approach (in procurement, ).
DFS is different from these and other existing approaches, philosophies and methods in that:
- It identifies decisions as not fully substantiated choices which increase risk
- It identifies all choices that do not take the (current) desired outcome into consideration as decisions potentially increasing risk — including contracts, checklists, schedules and protocols.
- It overcomes the downsides of “hierarchical decision making” (increased risk, cost and frustration) without discarding hierarchy and the benefits hierarchy can provide.
- It methodically identifies expert individuals and organisations who are able to minimise risk.
- It uses observations of behavioural characteristics to support the identification of expertise — and thus to predict behaviour
- It identifies the alignment of employee expertise as a key organisational challenge — and provides a solution.
- It is an entirely logical and internally consistent approach: from the foundation of its philosophy, the clarifying definition of crucial terms (risk, expert, decision), to the four steps and five principles of the approach itself.
- It is both systematic and generic: it can be applied in every aspect and in every field that has the organisation’s interest.
- It can be introduced gradually, reversibly and without having to shed established tools and procedures and organically formed ways of operating.
What type of organisations will benefit from DFS?
In essence, every organisation would benefit from DFS. However, not all organisation will be able to implement it.
The Who of DFS — those organisations who may implement it — are organisations who care about making change happen.
The element of care is essential, as only organisations who are driven to resolve frustrations and or make change happen through realising their mission, will be able to attract and retain expertise. Without it the approach of Decision Free Solutions cannot be successfully implemented.
The Who are those organisations or organisational units (e.g. departments):
- Who are driven by an intrinsic motivation, passion, belief.
- Who perceive their environment, identify what can be done better and want to make it happen.
- Who realise that fully utilising expertise is always in the best interest of both client and organisation
The organisations that will benefit from DFS are:
- Organisations who are in (constant) need of freeing up (organisational) resources to keep a competitive edge or to introduce change
- Organisations with superior solutions who need to find a way to communicate their expertise to the customers (“sales”)
- Organisations who need to identify and utilise expert assistance to help them achieve their mission (“procurement”)
- Organisations who have to continuously, swiftly and efficiently adjust to a rapidly changing environment (“management”)
- Organisations who have to maximise the use of their employees’ talents and availability (“project management”)
- Organisations who want to resolve frustrations for others and who need to be efficient and must have a clear understanding of how best to serve the needs of their clients (such as social enterprises, healthcare providers and NGO’s)
- Organisations motivated to make a difference and who need to get the most out their expertise and resources (e.g. related to environmental protection, safety, survival, access, rights).
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