Academy Spotlight: Victoria Medvec – Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

vicki-medvecDr. Victoria Medvec, Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; co-founder and the Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women at the Kellogg School; and CEO of Medvec and Associates:  

Tell us about yourself and your firm:

My passion is helping companies and organizations analyze their existing negotiation strategies, recognize the habits that impede success, and teaching their executives how to maximize their success in all types of negotiations while simultaneously building the relationship with the other party. My firm, Medvec and Associates, also trains sales organizations, business development teams and procurement groups to develop and implement enhanced negotiation strategies and skills. We focus on maximizing our clients’ profitability by teaching executives how to increase revenues and reduce costs.

I am also an academic. I am the Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where I have studied judgment and decision-making with a particular emphasis on how people feel about the decisions they have made, and researched both independent decision-making and interdependent decisions within the context of negotiations. As a co-founder and the Executive Director for the Center for Executive Women at Kellogg, I focus on moving more women into senior leadership roles and onto the Boards of Directors of Fortune 1000 companies.

What is the focus of this Module? In this Module, the Fellows learned how to improve problem-solving and decision-making. Many organizations suffer from paralysis by analysis. They struggle with less-than-complete information and with trying to reach consensus. Often decisions get escalated up the chain of command, when that is not necessary given the level of organizational risk associated with that decision. Sometimes the persons involved in the decision-making have an agenda and hold back important information. And many organizations revisit decisions, rather than committing to them and aligning all stakeholders for execution.

Organizations that make the best decisions discuss decision-making as a process, and clearly define roles and responsibilities. They push decision-making down to the lowest appropriate level, and empower people across the organization to make decisions. And, of great importance, they encourage debate around ideas to uncover disconfirming information that reveals minority opinions and taps everyone’s expertise to avoid hindsight questioning and other problems that then would get in the way of implementing the decision.

What would you say is the greatest challenge of this Module:
Because most of the Fellows are not in a position to influence the decision-making process followed by their organizations, they may question how they can use what they learned. However, decision-making is a muscle and you need to warm it up on low-stake decisions to be able to take on high-stake decisions. I have to believe the Fellows all are in situations where they can exercise that muscle in some ways no matter what their roles in their organizations. And they can also introduce the framework to their managers or supervisors, in hopes they can influence the decision-making processes in their departments.

What resonated most for the Fellows?
The Fellows responded strongly to the discussion about the importance of disconfirming information and encouraging debate in the decision-making process. We have all been in situations where we have felt that we had some information to add that did not agree with where the conversation was going. And, for valid reasons, we did not feel comfortable raising the issue at that time. From our discussion, the Fellows took away the point that is critical that the decision-maker have access to the specialized information possessed by the persons who have unique expertise on the issue. It is also important that decision-makers privately collect viewpoints on an issue being decided, before people take public stances and get locked in.

What were the big take-aways and types of actionable goals do you hope that Fellows will set as a result of what they learned?
It is important for the Fellows to be aware of all the traps that can lead to poor decision-making so they can try to steer away from them and toward good practices. At the end of the day, I asked the Fellows to commit to using “private collection” techniques to gather disconfirming information at some point before the next Module. Again, exercising those decision-making muscles will make them stronger!

How would you describe the role played by Board of Advisors Members Julie Jacobs and Maryanne Lavan?  What did they contribute to the Module and what did you learn from their participation?
I so appreciated their insights into how they approach decision-making in their roles and, sometimes, still struggle with the challenges. They both often find that they are playing more of a business-advisor role in decision-making, not a purely legal role. In those situations, they have had to provide their disconfirming information and points of view about what is in the best interest of the company. They also provided very helpful examples of how they have positioned the Legal Department as a strategic partner in the business, not as a naysayer and deal-killer, while providing critical guidance to the business on the relative risks of various courses of action.

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