How to Make Smart, Timely Decisions

Some advice for the next president and his or her team.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, the President-elect and his or her transition team will face an unrelenting barrage of decisions.

For the duration of their time in office, the president and members of the administration will seek to make smart and timely decisions that advance the administration’s agenda and respond to emerging challenges.

Some decisions, such as those that inform the budget, will follow well-worn processes and timelines. Others will require processes to address emerging challenges. How incoming leaders make decisions will significantly influence the effectiveness of their choices.

Improving decision-making for the next administration—and for the transition team that precedes it—is the subject of a new report released jointly by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service. Enhancing the Government’s Decision-Making: Helping Leaders Make Smart and Timely Decisions, by former White House official Ed DeSeve, provides actionable recommendations that include:

  • Clearly define and articulate how the new administration will make decisions in different situations. This advice falls into the category of easy to say and hard to do. By being deliberate and thoughtful about how they approach decision making, leaders can help their organizations be more responsive and effective.
  • Adopt an “enterprise” approach to decision making. A recent report on Enterprise Government laid out why priorities should be approached from a cross-agency perspective. The same is true when it comes to establishing processes for decision-making. Choices should be made in their local context and placed within the context of the larger enterprise, lest agencies make locally optimal decisions that sub-optimize the governmentwide results.
  • Take advantage of existing analytic capabilities. Across the government, functions such as risk management, benchmarking and strategic foresight can bring analytic rigor to decision processes. Incoming leaders need to be aware of analytical capabilities, and use them in the design and execution of decision processes.

The report is part of a joint effort by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service to develop a Management Roadmap for the next administration. The Management Roadmap is a piece of the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition Ready to Govern initiative.

The recommendations stem from a roundtable discussion held in November 2015 with current and former career and political government leaders from varied backgrounds and political affiliations. A clear theme from the discussion was that both existing decision processes and emerging challenges can be addressed more effectively given clarity on how decisions are made. There are processes that can deliver timely and accurate information and insights to leaders.

The complex, varied and sheer number of impactful decisions that will face the new Administration can swamp even experienced leaders. By taking advantage of early transition planning to develop deliberate approaches to decision making, the next administration can be better prepared to make smart and timely choices, starting on Nov. 9.

Dan Chenok is executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Alan Howze, a fellow at the IBM Center, is a senior adviser and project manager for the Management Roadmap initiative.