A Decision Filter… A Simple Tool For Making Fast Objective Program Approval Decisions

Leaders often have difficulty saying no. But decision filters make rejecting weak proposals easier.

Descriptors… Decision-making / the decision filter tool – how-to – criteria for rejecting weak projects – 4 min. scan.

Yes, in today’s business environment, many leaders are under pressure from executives, customers, and employees to “do more with less” (often without significant new funding). However, in order to avoid overloading your function with low-impact or weak new projects, smart leaders should be using a “decision filter.” A faster and more accurate method for assessing and ranking new program ideas from team members.

Using a checklist of less than 10 objective program assessment criteria. And even though this process was initially championed years ago at Levi Strauss. I find that this simple screening approach is still highly effective today. 

An Example – A decision filter for making personal decisions

Rather than relying on your intuition to assess which of your new social acquaintances may be your “perfect partner.” Here is an example of a decision filter that contains six screening criteria.

  • They share your values
  • They have a steady job, and they make more money than you do
  • They frequently make you laugh
  • They seldom argue, and you never fight
  • You have not witnessed any illegal behaviors or troubling habits
  • You consider them to be good-looking and physically attractive


The Advantages Of Using A Decision Filter For A New Program Ranking Decision In HR 

Of course, before adopting this decision filter tool, you should be aware of its many advantages. In this section, you will find a brief bullet-point list of the many benefits that a simple decision filter offers.

  • More new program successes – because this tool only uses criteria proven to accurately predict future program success. Your “approved” projects will have a much higher success rate.
  • More proposals will be submitted – because each leader will know in advance what criteria will be used to evaluate their new program ideas. Potential submitters will face much lower levels of uncertainty about what is expected. And that lower level of uncertainty will increase your number of project submissions. As an added benefit, it will be much easier for program/project leaders to tailor their proposals to fit these screening criteria accurately.
  • Consistent objective criteria will limit favoritism – this decision filter tool utilizes fixed assessment criteria. And using the same criteria makes it easier to compare different proposals side-by-side. By only allowing objective criteria, you will likely limit the amount of favoritism and discrimination that can creep into the decision process.
  • Your decisions will be better understood – because the decision criteria and process will be exceptionally transparent. Even those rejected proposals are much more likely to accept the final decision without a fight.
  • Faster decision-making – because a decision filter is essentially a checklist of predetermined proven criteria. This preset checklist will speed up the program assessment and ranking process. And that will mean that the chosen top-ranked program can be implemented faster.
  • Saying no becomes much easier – because the program leaders who submitted proposals knew the ranking criteria in advance. This decision tool will discourage several weak proposals that would’ve had a reasonable chance of success. And because everyone knew the objective minimum requirements, they had to satisfy them in advance. It will be much easier for a manager to reject the proposals that ranked low on the published requirements.

A Business Example – A Decision Filter For Adding A New HR Program

HR leaders are quickly realizing that succumbing to the pressure of adding new HR programs can lead to the overloading of HR processes and the burnout of HR professionals. As a result, it makes sense that the selection process for each new HR program is transparent, objective, and as predictive as possible. So, the first step in using a decision filter is the wide distribution throughout the team of the actual criteria that will be used to assess all new HR programs. That notification should include the number of decision filter criteria that must be met before a new program proposal will even be presented for a final funding decision. It’s important to note that although the example below covers the screening criteria for an HR program, similar criteria have proven effective in almost every area of new business program decision-making.

Decision Filter Criteria For New Programs

Every new people management program proposal must clearly show how it meets at least 8 of these 10 criteria to be placed on the final assessment slate.

  1. The program solves a high-priority business problem – because of our limited resources. Every approved people management program must focus on addressing at least one of the most impactful business problems/opportunities that our organization is currently facing. 
  2. The program has measurable business impacts – because our HR goal is to move beyond goal alignment and directly impact business results. Every newly submitted people management program is expected to estimate its measurable increase in team productivity (output/costs). 
  3. It uses technology, and it is data-driven throughout – because technology, data, and AI will soon permeate our entire organization. They must also permeate all newly approved people management programs.
  4. The program has a business-side executive champion – we have discovered that without the support of at least one senior executive from the business side. Few new HR programs have even a reasonable chance of success. So, in your program proposal, you must name the executive from a business unit who enthusiastically and proactively supports this new program.
  5. Proof of concept is provided – we can’t afford to adopt untried approaches. And as a result, convincing “proof of the concept” must be included in every proposal.
  6. A positive ROI has been projected – all new program proposals must include an estimate (approved by the CFO’s office) covering its likely success probability and its ROI after 18 months.
  7. The program is scalable and can be implemented globally – as our organization continues to grow and expand. All newly added programs must demonstrate that they are scalable and can be implemented globally.
  8. It provides us with a competitive advantage – our assessment process requires that the program leader demonstrate how the new program will provide our organization with a competitive advantage for at least a year in the people management area. 
  9. The program adds no more than one new HR headcount – proposals can include funding for consultants and contractors. But as a general rule, an approved proposal cannot include more than one permanent added HR headcount.
  10. The proposal includes a sunset clause – success metrics must be included. The proposal must include a clause that requires that “If 80% of the initial program goals are not met within 18 months, the program funding will automatically be eliminated.”
If you only do one thing – talk to leaders in your own business functions that routinely assess both internal and external proposals (i.e., the COO’s office, vendor selection, supply chain, purchasing, or strategic partnerships). Learn how they use objective criteria to make faster and more accurate selection decisions.

Final Thoughts

Research has shown that using only objective decision criteria directly correlates with past new program successes. This will result in the most accurate decision-making if you are willing to take the time to identify the criteria that consistently predict new program success. Then, only use those criteria for decision-making in selecting new programs, employees, vendors, and equipment. I have found that rather than dreading decision-making. Many leaders and managers will eventually begin to look forward to using a decision filter in all aspects of their leadership role.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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