By: Wilma Slenders
We live in a world of complexity, and making a good (right) decision is a matter of applying both art and science to the situation. The idea of decision-making is often limited to the actual decision – should we do this or not? However, decision-making is a process. It involves understanding the need, gathering information, involving key stakeholders, identifying assumptions, assessing alternatives, making a recommendation, gaining consensus (if required), and planning, communicating and executing on the decision.
Here are three easy rules to consider about decision-making:
- It is important to make a good decision in a timely manner and not procrastinate.
- If a decision is made in a timely manner but not found to be the right one, it is important to course correct and move on.
- Not making a decision will slow or stop the process, creating greater risk.
So, why is it hard to make a decision?
1. Priorities aren’t clear
When priorities aren’t clear in an organization, it can be very challenging to make decisions. Questions such as ‘what is the right course of action?’, ‘why are we doing this?’, or how does this contribute to the larger picture?’ are all important to help determine how the decision should be positioned.
Leaders who aren’t clear on their priorities are well advised to consult with their senior leaders for direction and guidance, as they may have information that the decision maker does not have.
The culture of the organization may subscribe to the idea that “failure is not an option”. This increases pressure on the individual making the decision. Decision-making requires taking ownership and accountability of the problem, as well potential solutions. It opens the leader up to criticism, especially if it is perceived that a poor decision has been made. Most people will move away from that, if at all possible.
In some organizations, committing to a goal, target or action is politically risky and is to be avoided at all costs. This can have the impact of decisions not being made due to perceived personal and professional repercussions.
3. Fear of failure
There is risk in making a decision – what if it isn’t the right one? What if things turn out badly? Indecision is often based on fear of failure. And, no one wants to fail!
When there is increased pressure to make a good decision, often leaders have difficulty in determining the right thing to do. Other times, leaders spend too much time seeking to fully understand the situation resulting in less than optimal timing of the decision or there no longer being a need for that particular decision.
4. Repercussions of making a decision.
Decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and have implications and consequences. A decision made in one part of the organization may have repercussions in another part of the organization. Or, the decision may impact other decisions that have already been made or have yet to be made.
Decisions set precedents for how things are done. What if the decision does not fit the culture? What if the decision does not align with the direction the organization wishes to take? Sometimes, it is not possible to foresee or predict the far reaching effects of a decision.
Some strategies to use in making decisions:
- Think about the advice that a professional colleague or mentor would give you. Sometimes, it is helpful to consider how an individual whom you trust would look at the situation. Visualizing what that individual would tell you helps detach from the emotionality of the decision .
- Think about the advice that you would give a professional colleague facing a similar situation. Imagine that the decision is very important to that colleague, that the situation is really occurring, and that the colleague asks you for advice. Thinking about the situation and decision in terms of someone else depersonalizes it and helps place it in a different context.
- Visualize the alternatives. Imagine, what will happen if you choose each of the possible options. Try to make these visualizations as realistic as possible, gathering whatever information you can to make them realistic. Make sure these visualizations cover both the good and bad aspects of each choice.
- List the pros and cons of each alternative. Sometimes our fear of failure gets in the way of seeing things rationally. Looking at the pluses and minuses of a particular course of action may help you see that there are alternatives that you may not have considered.
- Do a full cost-benefit analysis. If, after listing the pros and cons of each alternative, you still are stymied, compare each of the options from a financial perspective. Which will provide the most gain or benefit and which will cost the most (resources, time, energy)? It is important to also consider which is the most likely to be accepted by the organization.
- Gather data about similar decisions made by others. Sometimes it is possible to determine how well decisions worked for others, which can inform your decision. If you think there are compelling reasons why your situation is different from these other people’s, you can at least start with the estimates derived from considering the experiences of others, and then adjust up or down based on these differences. Note though that when considering what to do, people usually underestimate the relevance of how things typically turn out for others confronted with similar options. So it’s important to do this research when possible, and not overestimate how special or unique your situation is.
- Poll good decision makers. Think of three or four people who are unusually good decision makers, and unusually careful at thinking through challenging problems. Now, explain to each of them the details of your situation, and ask for their advice on what they think you should do in the circumstance. If they all agree with each other, that may be a compelling justification for going with their recommendation.
What do you do when faced with challenging decisions?