In my 28 years of working for different types of organizations – public, private and consulting for companies from $4 million in revenue to $1.5 billion in revenue – I continue to be surprised how decision making impacts an organization. I’m even more surprised how the lack of decision making negatively impacts an organization. In order to accomplish anything in your company, there are two options: to make a decision and control the outcome OR to not make a decision and react to whatever happens.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Dartmouth publicized a paper that summarizes how to make a decision effectively and successfully.
Then, gather relevant information that will help you make a good decision.
After you gather internal and external information, identify the alternatives as you are likely to have different paths or choices to make. List those alternatives.
After you have weighed the evidence, you need to choose among the alternatives. This is based on the first four items listed above.
Then, you can take action. Only do this when you are ready to take a positive action based on the alternative you chose.
Finally, review your decision. Remember, this will take some time to accomplish.
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Unfortunately, many business leaders are not very good about making decisions. They either rush through the steps, many times skipping a step, and end up with a bad decision. Or they get stuck on number 4 – weighing the evidence – and never move to step 5, which is making a choice.
But what happens when you skip the decision making steps? The steps mentioned above in the paper from UMass Dartmouth are critical and should not be taken lightly. They are there for a reason. My guess is that some bright minds with real life experience put these together. I mention this because in my 28 years of business experience, I can relate to each one.
I have seen “decision makers” (oxymoron) skip one or more of these steps. This can be in a routine day-to-day business matter, or in a strategic major multibillion-dollar decision. The outcome is always the same. The wrong decision was made. The cost of a wrong decision to an enterprise can be catastrophic. Or at the very least, the cost is an expensive one and sets back an entire department/business unit for months.
It is sometimes difficult to see our own faults in decision making until we hear or read about a similar situation. In my 28 years of experience, there have been hundreds or thousands of examples that I could pull from. See below for 2 case study examples.
I was once involved with a regulated utility that was installing an ERP system. The company completed Step #1 (Identify the Decision) and that’s about it! Someone with title and power in the organization decided to skip steps 2-7, and the result was a very bad system implementation that cost the company 50% of its revenue. Because of the lack of decision making and follow-though in the decision making process, they ultimately had to shut down a whole division.
In another example, a chemical company needed to fire a CFO and hire a new one. The original CFO had a bad track record of poor decision making. Technically, that CFO was good. But he was a bad people person and managed people with a hammer. As a result, a bad culture had developed. People hated working for the CFO and in turn, hated the company. Finally, the Board of Directors insisted that the CEO fire the CFO.
The CFO was fired, but the company’s moral was terrible. The worst part is that since the CEO was snake bitten, he was gun shy on making a decision to hire the replacement CFO. The CFO position was left open for almost one year. As a result, the company suffered due to the lack of leadership. During that time, the company loosened its internal controls, and the budgeting process became a mess. The lack of decision making by the CEO caused the Board of Directors to lose confidence in the CEO. There was a lack of leadership in the entire organization.
Step #4 (Weigh the Evidence) requires some analysis. We can all get lost in the weeds during this process. You may have heard the term Analysis Paralysis before. Analysis Paralysis is where someone is overthinking the analysis so much that a decision is never made.
This is actually very real, and it can happen to any of us – especially people who tend to be more detailed-oriented and analytical. First, you need to realize that in any decision we make, the perfect alternative does not usually exist. We wish there was, but in reality, there is not.
Is there the perfect car?
What about a perfect acquisition target?
Is there a perfect CFO?
The answer is probably no on these. We need to work with what we have and make the most educated selection based on the alternatives before us.
As professionals in our respective area, we are confident in what we know, or as they say, know what you don’t know.
If you hired a trusted advisor to assist you with your decision making and they are a reputable person, then trust your advisor’s opinion.
When I was growing up, it seemed like my father who was a physician would change his tax CPA what seemed to be every year. He just did not “feel good” about taxes and did not trust anyone. Not even the trusted advisor he hired! My dad was very talented and dedicated as a physician, but he knew nothing about business or taxes. So, his lack of knowledge in this area created a huge “monster effect”. There was no monster nor was there a person trying to screw him out of taxes. He simply did not know what he did not know. We cannot emphasize enough: trust your advisors.
Decision making makes a huge impact on an organization. It can either propel it forward and into success. Or it can destroy the company’s value. The worst thing that a leader can do is to not make a decision. There is always a better decision than not making a decision. It reduces the uncertainty because you have already collected evidence, weighed the alternatives, and went through various scenarios of how each decision will potentially turn out.
Remember, poor decision making, skipping necessary steps or simply a lack of decision making is a sign of lack of leadership. Not only is there a perception problem, but most likely your business enterprise will suffer due to the lack of decision making. As the business leader, trust your professional advisors and allow them to help you in the difficult decision making process. Download our free How to be a Wingman guide and step up into the trusted advisor role.
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