Crisis Decision Making – Use a Decision Log

by Philip Williams

From my experience working with the Greek Hostage Negotiation team during the 2004 Olympics, I learnt that the word ‘crisis’ has its origin in the Greek word ‘Krisis’ – time to make a decision.

The Covid-19 crisis is demanding this of all of us, at all levels, at home and at work. The situation that is unfolding is dynamic, fast-moving, unpredictable, you have to ask and are receiving a thousand questions, with everyone looking to everyone else, to make critical decisions.

What’s more, the decision you make today, may need to change tomorrow.

With a situation that could last months and even years, in this crisis, how can you keep track of who decided what, when and why?

Decision Logs

Decision logs are the way forward. In simple terms, they are a record of any key decision made that effects your navigation of a crisis.

They are composed of three key elements:

  1. Date, time, place and who
  2. What you understood the situation to be at the time of the decision – key factors relevant to your decision
  3. What you actually decided

Benefits of a Decision Log

  • In a crisis, as you review decisions and make new ones – you will forget what you knew, when and why the decision was made. The Decision Log keeps you on track.
  • It informs your briefings to colleagues, clients and stakeholders.
  • It brings sense and clarity to your decision-making process.
  • Your structured approach to managing decisions will encourage others at all levels to do the same.
  • It helps alleviate fears and second-guessing which crises causes.
  • Helps ease the burden of leadership at all levels.
  • Post crisis – it demonstrates your accountability and protects your reputation when the inevitable ‘hindsight police’ step in.

How to Best Use a Decision Log

Based on my experience as a Hostage and Crisis Negotiator, here are five ways to best make use of a decision log:

  1. Always benchmark any decision against the strategy. If it is not in line with that, you need to re-think. If you continue regardless, detail more as to why.
  2. Use bullet points – it doesn’t have to be long.
  3. Include what you didn’t know at the time – people forget how little we knew and judge us by what everyone now knows in the future.
  4. Once a week or month, summarise the overall situation and how it is affecting your people and the organisation. This is a very useful gauge of what it felt like at the time and also a barometer of progress for boosting morale when things improve.
  5. It can be written or audio recorded – whatever works for you.

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