1. Have a clear decision making process. If you don’t have a good critical thinking process in place, you may be reluctant to make important decisions. You don’t have confidence in your methodology so you look for more data, ask more people, and do more analysis. A good thinking process will help you know when you have enough information to move forward. In order to make a good decision you need to gather information to see what is happening, generate some ideas about possible solutions, evaluate what solution best solves your problem, and make sure all of the key stakeholders agree with your choice. Once you have followed these steps, you can feel confident that you have made a good decision and make it.
2. Embrace ambiguity. Many people hate ambiguity and feel that they cannot make a decision until they know exactly what is going on. In business, however, you rarely have absolute certainty: customer demands change, a new competitor enters the market, or there are regulatory shifts. Good decision makers learn to gather the available information, make predictions about how things might change, analyze the data, and get feedback from others to engage them in the process. Even in an uncertain environment, you can be confident that you have made the best decision given the information available at the time. Decide, then move on: there are new decisions to be made.
3. Speed up by slowing down. We tweet, we text, we answer emails until our thumbs seize. We digest more information in a week than people used to absorb in a year. We jump on and off planes and Skype and go to endless meetings. And every quarter, we are judged on our performance. So we must be making decisions quickly too, right? Wrong. A frenzy of activity will often make us less able to make a decision. Decisions require some focused thinking and discussion and that rarely happens while tweeting or jumping on and off planes. Spending a few hours engaged in a decision making process can be one of the most effective uses of your time.
4. Accept risk. The reality is, making decisions involves taking risks and we are so averse to loss that the potential to make a mistake can cause us to freeze. But doing nothing is almost always worse than doing something: as T.S. Eliot wisely noted, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper. A company that wants to move forward knows that mistakes will be made and will make its people feel secure in spite of that. They put safeguards in place to predict and mitigate risk but are aware that occasionally mistakes happen and the wrong decisions will be made.
5. Don’t let data overload get you down. Columbia University’s Sheena Iyengar ran the famous “jam test,” which showed that when we are faced with too many varieties of jam to purchase, we are overwhelmed and choose to buy none. An abundance of choice leads to decision paralysis. We now have more data available on our phones than was once stored in the best graduate school libraries. We think that the answer lies “out there” and with a bit more time we will stumble across the one piece of data that will help us make the perfect decision. We will never have every piece of information so its essential that we learn to recognize when we have enough data to make a decision and move forward.
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6. Clarify your values. When you go to a fast food restaurant do you get flummoxed when they ask you if you want to upsize your meal? Of course not. You have your own pre-established heuristic when it comes to fast food. Fast Food = Fat = “No thanks.” Or Upsize = Good Value = “Yes please!” Yes or no is easy. If you walked in to the same fast food place with no sense if you valued health over bang-for-your-buck, the decision would be more difficult. When your values are clear, decision making is easier. It’s important that companies have clearly defined values statements so that employees have a framework on which to base their decisions.
7. Clarify your business strategy. It’s easier to make a decision when you have a clearly articulated strategy and goals. The best decision is simply the one that drives you towards your goals. The clearer and simpler the strategy, whether it is personal or corporate, the easier it is to make a choice. Let’s say you have the opportunity to hire a new VP of Marketing. If you have a clear strategy that you are transitioning from being exclusively an executive search firm to being a PEO, you would tend to look for a marketing person with skills in developing new business lines rather than one with just sales and branding skills. Clear strategy drives clear decisions.
8. Practice makes perfect. Practice making decisions as often as you can. Many decisions require wading through information, doing a detailed analysis, and engaging stakeholders. Many decisions don’t. Practice making decisions so the decision making process becomes second nature. You’ll come to learn what decisions you can make quickly and simply make them. You’ll learn what decisions take more time to research and will feel more comfortable asking for extra time. If you routinely let everyone else choose the restaurant, vacation destination, or paint color, start making decisions. Decision making is a skill than can be crafted with time and practice.
If you follow a decision making process and keep the above points in mind, you will have everything you need to make great decisions that other people embrace. You will have to find another reason to procrastinate.