Let’s face it, effective decision making is an important skill leaders need to develop. In the society we live in, we are busy! As humans moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, people knew what they were going to do because every day was pretty much the same.
Now that we live in the knowledge age, the only consistent thing in most of our days is that there will be a lot of information coming in and very little time to process it. Meeting after meeting, sometimes double or even triple booked. We’ve barely processed the last load of data when the next one hits us!
Humans used to make just a few decisions a day; now we make hundreds of them a day. We are trying to decide what needs our attention right now.
Full disclosure, here; I am not immune. I constantly have to fight to make and then keep decisions. Turns out I like to make decisions, move forward, second guess that decision and go back to make it again. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes I change my mind. And the cycle starts again. Sigh…
I have a sticky note on my monitor that says Constrain, Research, Decide, Execute as a reminder. There is NO ARROW creating a do loop.
Pretty much everyone wants to be known for effective decision making – I mean, who wouldn’t?!?. After all, it is a sought-after skill. It can often be the difference between a promotion or a pink slip. In today’s uncertain times this skill lets you stand out on the team with quicker and better decisions.
And just in case you thought this was only a professional skill, think again. We are inundated with information at home, too, so we all need to apply these tips to our personal lives, as well.
How do you become more accurate and effective at decision making when it counts?
What is the objective of the mission?
Know the objective of the decision and know your mission on the team or within the personal setting.
Ask yourself: “What are we really trying to do here?”
Write it out, brainstorm, and discuss. Is it your role to solve this problem? Do you have the tools needed?
This played out in my last job. I was in Organization Development (OD), which was in the Chief of Staff organization at a government facility. Now the Chief of Staff was responsible for all the enabling functions of the organization. Everything from HR, operations, and budgeting to strategic planning, IT, and security. There are a lot of moving pieces, to say the least
In OD, we were responsible for leadership and professional development, but we had to be careful not to step on any HR toes. In other words, we had to know which problems were ours to solve, and which were HR’s problems to solve. Leaders have a tendency to reward good work with more work, so be careful that you aren’t handed a problem to solve that isn’t your responsibility.
Seek Out Wisdom And Knowledge
Seek out wise counsel. Really. If you are surrounded by more experienced professionals who have done what you are about to do, ask questions and inform yourself. Do needed research. Don’t let pride or proving that you have it “all under control” blind you to great resources all around you.
This one is easy for more extroverted personalities to do; they rather naturally like to talk to others about their thoughts and can get help just by articulating issues to their friends and colleagues.
Introverts, by their very definition, like to keep their thought process internal and may not even ask for ideas because it just doesn’t occur to them. They would rather solve their challenges themselves.
Depending on your preference, you may have to make a conscious effort to find someone and get advice.
Your decisions will be better for it!
It Does Not Have To Be Perfect
OMG is this a thing for me! I worked in R&D for decades, and one thing engineers love to do is be right the first time. The only problem is that most of the time, being 100% sure just takes too long!
My recommendation is don’t overthink - just start.
Action beats anxiety. Make a decision and then make a plan. An imperfect, real plan. Start doing the work that is deciding and solving. Take note of the effects and response to your action. This way you can adjust if needed.
B minus work completed is better than A+ work never finished.
Decide and execute. Make adjustments if you have to. You’ll get further in the long run.
Remember that statement about engineers wanting to be right the first time? It rears its ugly head here, too.
Be humble - make the adjustment early if needed. Don’t run the train off the track because you are unwilling to admit that you made a mistake. If your choice was wrong, own up to it in a professional way and make things right to the best of your ability. It’s better to win the fight after a change of tactics than to get knocked out by your own ego and pride.
I know, I know, I can here you say “I’m a professional! They expect me to get it right the first time – that’s why they pay me!”
But you know what, you can be an expert on many, many things, but you can’t be an expert on everything.
There will come a day when you are handed a task, project, or herculean effort, that is outside your comfort zone.
You will fail, because you are still learning. Accept that with humility, and so will everyone else.
Control What You Can Control
It is important when making decisions to know what you truly have power over. If it’s not your decision to make, stay out of the control room. Also - use this adage to relieve stress. Only focus on what you have the ability to decide on. This means staying focused and being able to take action without becoming overwhelmed by the details.
Easier said than done, right? But a reality to face when making decisions, nonetheless. There is no perfect information. There is no perfect amount of time to spend researching all the possibilities. There is just too much information out there to take it all in, digest it, and make the one right answer.
There is usually more than one right answer.
Just this afternoon, I went on Amazon to order a new shower curtain liner. I was astonished at the number of them available! Hundreds! I could have spent hours reading reviews, comparing attributes, and deciding. But I didn’t.
I actually constrained my time and said I have ten minutes to make this order. A shower curtain liner just isn’t worth more than that!
I sorted by highest review rating, read about 12 top-level descriptions, down-selected to three, read those three detailed descriptions, clicked Order Now and was done.
I did it in eight minutes. Gave me two minutes to celebrate with a Hershey’s Nugget Special Dark with Almonds. Hey! No judging; I earned it!
Remember, I fully admitted to being a serial re-decider.
Decision making does not have to be a tedious and stressful process. With the right attitude, planning, and strategy you can become a faster, more efficient, and competent decision-maker. That, in a nutshell is what effective decision making is all about! Plus, this is a great tool for the corporate world and for everyday life.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: My decision-making skills closely resemble that of a squirrel when crossing the street…but I’m working on it!