Making decisions is tough sometimes, even under the best of circumstances. And when people look to you to make the final call, it’s easy to feel like the future of your career, your team, or even the company is at stake. History is full of stories about bad business decisions, and no one wants to be the person who passed up a profitable acquisition or missed a major market shift.
But someone must be the “go-to” decision-maker. After all, no decision IS a decision, and businesses cannot afford to sit still. So how can you improve your ability to make effective decisions?
Start by assessing your own decision-making style. There are generally three approaches to making decisions:
Consultative decision-making involves soliciting input from others before making a decision.
Directive decision-making means making the decision on your own.
Consensus decision-making is all about involving others and making a decision together.
Of course, different decisions may require different methods, but every leader will naturally gravitate toward one or two of these styles more often. Identify how you make decisions, and then learn when to alter your decision-making strategy to boost the quality of the outcome.
Once you have a general idea of how you make decisions, follow these four steps to make the most effective decision possible:
1. Define the problem or need:
Calvin Coolidge once said, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.” It’s easy to see a cascade of problems and turn them all into something that needs a decision, or to turn a decision into a bigger issue than it really is. To avoid making decisions for problems or needs you don’t have right now, take some time to clearly define the current issue. Make sure you know exactly what the problem or need is so that you don’t spend time on problems or needs that can wait—or that may never become problems at all.
2. Analyze the issue at hand:
This step is probably the one that causes the most “analysis paralysis.” It’s easy to overanalyze a problem or need. Try to confine your analysis to one issue. What is the importance of this issue? Who is impacted? If you can look at potential downstream impacts without getting stalled, that’s fine, but don’t let “what ifs” delay the decision too long. Ask others for input, if necessary.
3. Implement and communicate:
Once you’ve made a decision, implement and communicate. Don’t let the time lag between decision and implementation any longer than necessary. A lack of action and transparency can lead to distrust and instability on your team or in the organization. Rather, share information as soon as possible, and implement your decisions at the earliest possible time. Be methodical about the communication, and invite questions or feedback as much as possible.
4. Learn from the process and the outcome:
It’s tempting to crow about good decisions and sweep bad decisions under the rug. However, both can offer good learning opportunities about what decision style is best, what level of tolerance your team or company has for ambiguity, and so on. In addition, if the outcome of a decision is negative, assess it honestly and look for ways to redirect. Admitting and learning from mistakes can help grow trust among colleagues.
Making decisions can be risky, and when other futures are on the line, it’s tempting to avoid them. But identifying your preferred process and then taking a step-by-step approach can make the process less risky and more likely to produce good outcomes.