A Process for Effective Decision Making (And Knowing When NOT to Make a Decision)

As a manager, you’re going to be faced with a bunch of decisions. Some will be big, some will be small. But no matter which it is, you need to be effective in making, as well as being aware when you shouldn’t make one.

Developing this skill set will happen naturally over time – the more difficult situations that you face and the more decisions you make, the more you will learn.

However, early in your leadership journey, you may want something a little more process-driven to use until this experience comes. So let’s explore one that you can use now.

Set a deadline

Don’t let procrastination get in the way of making a decision. Taking too long to make a call on something can be damaging to morale and your culture. This isn’t to say that you should rush into the decision making, and you should give key decisions the time that you deserve. 

Try to find a balance here and set a deadline that feels reasonable given the possible scale of the decision and the consequences. Also, remember the principles of type 1 and type 2 decisions that should play a part in your thinking.

In Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Iger says that all decisions, no matter how difficult, should be made in a timely way. Effective leaders encourage diversity of opinion, balanced with the need to make and implement decisions. Indecision is corrosive to morale. 

Whether it’s a few hours, the end of the meeting that you’re currently in, or a few days, know when you want to make a decision and stick to it.

Get input and options

Look around you at your team, your peers and your seniors and get input. Ideally, you want to have all of your options laid out so that you can choose which one is the best. To help with this, source input from people and use it to put together the most feasible options. 

Typically, there probably aren’t actually that many options for you to choose from. Even with decisions that feel the most important, there aren’t likely to be many options. In fact, some decisions can feel larger and more impactful than others because there aren’t many options.

Think about the worst-case scenario

As you consider your options, think about what could go wrong. What’s the worst-case scenario when it comes to the decision that you’re trying to make? 

This isn’t just about thinking about what may happen, it’s about emotionally processing what could possibly go wrong which will help you understand just how big a decision it is that you’re making.  

When you’ve done this, it will help you categorise just how big (or small) the decision actually is and you’ll know what could go wrong. Thus giving you a bit more information to make the right call.

Follow your values

Being able to stick to your own values, ethics and moral boundaries whilst making decisions is a superpower. It won’t mean that you get every single decision 100% right, but if you trust your own instincts and try to always do the right thing, you’re going to make them in a way that fits with who you are.

Even if we get a decision wrong, we can have some reassurance that we stuck to our values and try to resolve what may not have been right. Doing the opposite can leave you feeling like you’ve lost some of your identity as a leader, damaging your confidence and overall, making you a less effective leader. 

Make the call (or not make it)

When you have the options, have sought input and trusted your values, make the call.

But also remember that not making a decision or delaying it is also a decision – as long as those things are a proactive choice. This means that you consciously choose to do nothing or delay a decision because that in itself, is the best option.

Don’t let yourself sleepwalk into not making a decision.

Understanding when not to make a decision

No matter how effective a leader you are, we’re all human and we all have a lot of stuff going on in our heads at any given moment. We all have emotions and sometimes, those emotions can affect our ability to do our jobs. 

When you’re a leader, there is an extra layer of complexity added here. We not only have to do our day-to-day jobs, but we also have to make decisions. Our mental health and our emotional well-being play a big part in our ability to do this. 

There are going to be times when you’re simply not in the best state of mind to make an effective decision. 

Put simply, those times are when you’re unable to do many of the things that we’ve talked about in this article, including:

  • You’re closed off to the input of others.
  • You’re not able to see the bigger picture and therefore, the scale of the decision that you’re making.
  • You’re fuzzy on your values and the part they play in decision-making.
  • You’re either rushing a decision or not making it at all, with no thought for a sensible deadline.

Making a decision under any of the circumstances above is likely to lead to it not being the best one. Even if you get lucky, it’s not exactly a great example to set for others.

Typically, the above can happen if we have too much going on. This could be in your day-to=day job, especially if you are under a lot of pressure and are feeling it. It could also be because of pressures outside of work. Of course, it could also be a combination of the two. 

Recognising your own triggers

To avoid making a decision under the circumstances above, you need to recognise the things that can trigger the mindset that can lead to them.

To do this, you need to start by thinking about the things that make you feel like you’re at optimal performance and in a good place mentally. What’s the perfect combination of things that happen at work and at home for you to feel comfortable?

To give you a few examples, here are some that I’ve seen from managers over the years:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Working out at the gym or going for a run.
  • Cooking at home.
  • Spending time with children.
  • Travelling and holidays

For some people, if you start to take away any of the above and replace it with a high-pressure environment at work, their mental health takes a big hit. 

The opposite can also happen, for example, if you’re coming under a lot of pressure at work and finding that your time is being taken up, you don’t do the things that give you joy. All of a sudden, you’re working late and don’t get the chance to see your kids before bed. Instead of going to the gym at lunchtime, you work through and eat fast food at your desk. Rather than taking two weeks off on holiday to switch off and recharge, you take the odd day here and there and stay at home. 

If either of these things happens, you’re never going to be in the right mindset to make effective decisions. This is why you need to spend time reflecting on what makes you happy and perform well, then ensure that you never lose these. Your ability to make effective decisions will be much better as a result.

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