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Embed behavioral strategy

Four steps to adopting behavioral strategy

1. Decide which decisions warrant the effort

the judicial analogy is instructive. Just as higher standards of process apply in a capital case than in a proceeding before a small-claims court, companies can and should pay special attention to two types of decisions.
The first set consists of rare, one-of-a-kind strategic decisions. Major mergers and acquisitions, “bet the company” investments, and crucial technological choices fall in this category. In most companies, these decisions are made by a small subgroup of the executive team, using an ad hoc, informal, and often iterative process. The second set includes repetitive but high-stakes decisions that shape a company’s strategy over time.

2. Identify the biases most likely to affect critical decisions

Open discussion of the biases that may be undermining decision making is invaluable. It can be stimulated both by conducting postmortems of past decisions and by observing current decision processes.

3. Select practices and tools to counter the most relevant biases

Companies should select mechanisms that are appropriate to the type of decision at hand, to their culture, and to the decision-making styles of their leaders. Adopting behavioral strategy means not only embracing the broad principles set forth above but also selecting and tailoring specific debiasing practices to turn the principles into action.

4. Embed practices in formal processes

By embedding these practices in formal corporate operating procedures (such as capital-investment approval processes or R&D reviews), executives can ensure that such techniques are used with some regularity and not just when the ultimate decision maker feels unusually uncertain about which call to make. One reason it’s important to embed these practices in recurring procedures is that everything we know about the tendency toward overconfidence suggests that it is unwise to rely on one’s instincts to decide when to rely on one’s instincts! Another is that good decision making requires practice as a management team: without regular opportunities, the team will agree in principle on the techniques it should use but lack the experience (and the mutual trust) to use them effectively.

McKinsey Quarterly

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