February 5, 2013

Five Crucial Tactics for Decision Making

Super Bowl XLVII featured a classic matchup between two great teams, led by two great coaches.  The Harbaugh brothers have more in common than their family ancestry, which is pretty impressive on its own.  A similarity that impressed me is that both coaches made tough, unconventional decisions that made a great difference in their team’s performance.  Each leader courageously owned his decision, not knowing with certainty that the outcome would be positive.  Eventually, the rest of the world saw what these leaders saw, and acknowledged the wisdom of the decisions.

Managers make tough decisions that impact multiple employees directly; it’s their job.  Usually, managers must decide issues in a limited time frame, based on limited perspective, hidden bias, mixed motives and other challenging elements.  Decision making is a skill that can (and should) be developed in every manager.  Here are a few points to consider when making business decisions.

Check your stats.  In other words, what is your track record in deciding issues?  Most people do a better job with some types of decisions (e.g., better with people issues, technical information, prioritizing opportunities, etc.).    Do the work needed to uncover why youdecision making are better at some decisions than others.  If necessary and feasible, get help from someone you trust.  Good counsel makes it a lot easier to make good decisions.

Separate the facts from the assumptions.  You could be basing your decision on something that is untrue.  Be especially careful about assuming different issues are related if you aren’t certain. 

Be honest about your personal biases.  We all have them.  The point is to recognize them, and to keep them in their place when it comes to decisions – especially decisions that have to do with people.  A manager’s areas of bias can result in all the bad outcomes that HR Solutions are meant to avoid (lawsuits, penalties, fines, lost reputations, damaged relationships, etc.). 

Delay the decision.  In the movie Men In Black III, one of the main characters talked about “letting the pie work.”  He would routinely stop thinking actively about a problem, relax his struggling mind, and then realize a great, simple solution while not actively engaged with the issue.  Leave it alone for a while, and come back to it.  Take time to research and investigate the matter more.

If you have done all of these suggestions, trust your gut.  I define “gut” as an impression or sense regarding a decision.  If you have ruled out personal bias and the decision is in an area you know well, your gut is probably right – even if you don’t know why yet.  Remember the importance of considering your personal prejudices.  Also, don’t go with the gut if you have time to do your homework.

As a manager, be prepared to live or… live… by your decisions.  Few things are worse than a manager who won’t decide, or who makes poor decisions.  Practice by reading business cases, and studying people who have made great decisions.  Do the work necessary to be a great decision maker.  It will take a little discretionary effort on your part, and it will be well worth the investment.

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