How many decisions do you think you make each day?
Many sources and studies believe we make somewhere in the region of 35,000 decisions a day.
Let that sink in… 35,000.
How many of those 35,000 decisions were good decisions?
We don’t track the decision and the outcome so it is impossible to put a percentage figure on it.
Some decisions are easy, such as what we will choose for breakfast.
Other decisions are much more complex. When we deal with situations that are challenging it is difficult to make a decision.
Everyone will have examples of poor decisions they have made.
What was it about your decision-making that led to a poor outcome?
Could there have been a different way of dealing with the issue?
If you have to make 35,000 decisions per day how do we know we are making the best decisions possible?
You can improve your decision-making power and I want to show you how.
Blocks and Barriers
To improve your decision-making skills understanding the blocks to good decision-making is key.
Many years ago I led a meeting that resulted in a person being dismissed from their job.
Dismissing someone and impacting their career is a huge responsibility.
I wanted to make sure I treated the meeting with respect and I prepared as such.
Based on the evidence, as it was presented to me, I knew the right decision was to dismiss.
Their performance had not improved, their attitude remained flippant and they were a risk to the business.
Even though logic was driving me towards dismissal my thinking locked up.
In my mind dismissal was the right decision but the words would not come out of my mouth.
It was one of the first dismissals I had dealt with and I was struggling with the responsibility.
HR were present in the meeting and I think they realised my discomfort. I had reviewed the evidence for a fourth time and I could sense their delicate impatience.
‘I think it is time for you to end the adjournment and make a decision. What do you want to do?’
Their valid question that made me feel hot, my skin felt prickly and I felt a little sick.
I brought the person back into the room and delivered my decision to dismiss.
Even though I knew it was the right decision I felt pretty bad for the next couple of days.
Some twelve years later I look back and know it was the right decision. In the moment though I was filled with dread and self-doubt.
This experience demonstrated some common blocks in our decision-making.
If you know what to look out for, the dangers that diminish your decision-making power, you can create coping strategies to fight back.
When the stakes are high the decision-making process becomes tougher.
The decision rests with you and you will either take the glory or be held responsible. You have to be comfortable with both outcomes when making a decision of this size.
Often a high stakes decision will be made without all the facts available. Making a decision of this nature means you have to be comfortable with ambiguity.
We make decisions all the time, often without putting much thought behind them.
In all situations we believe we have the ability to make a decision.
How many times have you shouted at game show on TV? Of course you would walk away and take the money, right?
I wonder how you would deal with the pressure of the cameras and an audience all urging you to do different things. Not so simple, now, huh?
The expectation we put on ourselves becomes the sole focus.
As a result pressure builds.
The outcome becomes about the increasing pressure and not on the process of making a sound decision.
The deadline approaches. You have poured over paperwork and spreadsheets for days. The time has come to make a decision.
You just have a few other issues to iron out:
Your To Do list is running to three pages.
Your team rely on you for technical expertise.
Your Boss needs you to pick up some of the month end reporting.
Your desk is covered in papers and old coffee cups.
You have skipped breakfast and lunch and all you can think about is food.
In trying to cover everything you are flitting from one task to another. As a result you are achieving very little.
Although you can’t disregard the day-to-day of your job, allowing this type of environment to develop is not healthy when making a big decision.
Aim to work in an environment that supports and aids your decision-making.
Loss aversion is a huge driver in behaviour.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds we would rather avoid a punishment than work towards achieving something great.
Confidence plays a part in this.
You doubt your own ability, you worry about the impact your decision will have and the fear of being wrong builds.
In trying to get it right you think about your decision-making process far more than you should.
You go over the information several times and as a result you suffer ‘analysis paralysis.’
In other words you freeze.
It all becomes too much.
You are overloaded with information.
You can not make a clear decision.
You also start to relive all your past bad decisions and the loop of fear is completed.
Lack of Clarity
In the process of making a decision you can often lose the most important aspect.
Why are you making the decision?
If you don’t understand the purpose of your decision you will quickly become lost.
Purpose pushes you in the direction you want to travel. It will give clarity in those difficult moments. It will give the foundation for improving your decision-making.
Power to the People
We have looked at some of the common blocks to decision-making
What can you do to make your decision-making more powerful?
Know the Numbers
In business decision-making is often about knowing the numbers.
What I mean by this is being able to understand the information and data in front of you.
You have to be able to interrogate the numbers and understand what causes them to be good and/or bad.
You also have to be able to explain them to someone else.
Having this ability will help in making an informed decision.
Think Like Obama
When we make a decision we are emotionally invested.
We know our decision will have an impact on the business, those around us and our self.
When we are so heavily invested it makes the decision making process a challenge.
Approaching the situation and pretending to be someone else is a neat hack. It bypasses the emotion that is clouding your judgement.
It works like this:
Imagine you are Barack Obama when working through your decision.
If you were Obama how would you approach about the decision?
What you think, feel and talk about if you were Obama and had to make the decision?
You can carry out this exercise by pretending to be anyone and they do not have to be famous.
If you admire and respect someone in your business then apply the same rules. How would they think, act and feel about this decision?
The reason the exercise works is it allows us to become free of ourselves.
We are not bogged down with our own personal baggage and fears.
Obama would make a decision, right?
Well, so can you.
The exercise gives us permission to be wrong. It allows us to focus purely on the options, the obstacles and the solution.
Set a Deadline
How many times have you wrestled a decision with no clear deadline?
I work better if I have a pressing deadline.
It sharpens my focus and cuts through most of my procrastination BS.
The more time we have the more we will fill the void with other work. Making this mistake will take your focus away from the decision.
Whatever deadline you set always ask this question:
‘What would happen if I made this decision in half the time?’
This is not to say we should rush our decision-making (some decisions it may be right to take days of analysis and debate).
Most decisions can be made quickly – we just choose to drag it out.
Be brutal with deadlines and make a decision sooner rather than later.
Could Vs Should
When you make a decision it can be helpful to rephrase the context.
Your decision-making will often focus on what ‘could be done.’
In doing so you are limiting your thinking.
For example you may work in a heavily regulated business.
If you are looking at what you ‘could get away with’ it is a dangerous mindset to have.
You want to have your cake and eat it.
By reframing the question to ‘What should we do?’ you move your thinking away from the least amount of work to doing the right thing.
‘What should we do?’ means you are always thinking about the end goal in mind. You focus on the heart of the matter and open up the opportunities available to you.
The ‘One Person’
When making any decision you will need approval, from someone, somewhere.
Understanding who this person is, what is important to them and how they make decisions is vital.
Think about the Obama exercise I mentioned earlier.
Put yourself in their shoes and think like them.
If you make them look good the next set of decisions that need sign off are likely to be much easier.
Options Options Options
When we make a decision we can feel restricted by a lack of information or too much information.
What you can focus on is generating options.
When making a decision a good question to ask ‘What have we not considered?’
When we live in an information age it is the missing and unknown that often will unpick the lock and presents a different solution.
Searching for the unknown can work well in a group setting.
Once you have the first suggestion to ‘What have we not considered?’ the follow-up question should be:
‘Ok, what else?’
You can keep repeating ‘OK, what else?’, until you have exhausted all potential other options.
You will be amazed by how several people all focused on generating options will help in making a better decision.
When making a decision the level of risk is an important but often forgotten about issue.
The reality is everything has risk.
You are more likely to be in a car accident than a plane crash – Do you feel more safe travelling in a car or a plane?
The car feels more safe but you are more likely to be involved in a car accident.
A risk is looking at the likelihood or chance of that risk happening.
You need to think about:
The consequence of making a wrong or poor decision.
The advantages of making the right decision.
If you consider the worst case scenario, how likely is this to happen?
Whatever the worst case scenario might be, consider how acceptable this is to you.
Managing risk will keep your decision-making in check.
Make the Decision
Regardless of how many techniques, hints or tips exist at the heart of this is actually making the decision!
The worst decision is where no decision is made at all.
You may not feel great when a bad decision is made but so much learning can come from this.
You may still feel uncomfortable once you have made the decision.
Resist the temptation of playing out different scenarios in your head.
Make the decision and move on.
There will be plenty more decisions to make around the corner!
There is never any harm in testing the water with someone you trust and respect.
Pitch to them the decision you are thinking about and the rationale behind it.
Ask them to provide feedback.
Ask them what is good about it and what concerns them.
If you want to take it a step further then ask them to ‘red team’ it.
Sleep On It
How many times have you heard someone say ‘I want to sleep on it?’
The brain does something wonderful whilst we sleep and it starts to connect the dots.
It does this so well that it connects dots we did not even realise existed.
Have you ever woke up and the first thing to pop into your head is the answer to a complex problem.
You have just slept on it!
The brain organises memories and information, deep within our subconscious.
Research shows we actually make better decisions in our subconscious than our conscious mind.
Daydreaming also has a similar effect.
Some of my best thinking has come about when I switch off, day-dream and then BAM! The answer presents itself.
Your decision-making does not have to be muddled and confusing.
Using these strategies and tools will help you to become more confident and improve your decision-making.
What decision have you been struggling with lately?
What important decision will you make this week?
I can’t wait to hear about what you decide.
Believe and take action.