Effective Decision Making – Why So Many Are Avoided

Posted on October 6, 2010
Filed Under Norman Wolfe, Strategy Execution | Leave a Comment

Most people are terrible about making decisions.

With every decision there is both the execution of the decision and the implementation of the decision–and the latter almost always gets in the way of the former.

I was recently talking with a client about a key decision he had to make. In this case, it involved the issue of moving an executive into another position. It became obvious that the CEO was troubled by the implications of the decision–not only was the individual going to be impacted–but the decision might create the perfect conditions for mutiny within the company.

From the outside looking in–this seems like a rather straightforward decision to make, but from inside the mind of the CEO it was anything but.

In fact, in most cases of decision difficulty, I often see what’s called “circular thinking“. The person weighing all the pros and cons–the one mitigating the implementation–gets so wrapped up in them they can’t decide what course of action to take.

The solution is to separate the decision from the implementation.

I remember years ago when I first came across this trap. It was when I was talking with one of my executives about a person they were having difficulty with. In the conversation I began to notice this circular reasoning. Should she, or shouldn’t she terminate the employee?

I asked a very simple question. “You have a job to do. Let’s say it was to hammer in a nail. The most effective way to do it is to use a hammer. Though you could possibly manage it with the handle of a screwdriver it is less effective. Is the person you have a hammer to your nail or is he a screwdriver?”

In making the scenario this black and white–it made the decision obvious. Yet even then, the “yeah but what about … ” started to rise and cause her to waiver in her decision. I, then, instructed her to separate the decision from the implementation. Once the decision is made and you are clear about the objective to be achieved, then we can discuss the most effective implementation.

And this is the key to effective decision making. First, make the decision that is needed to get the job done. Then, look at all the implications of the decisions and amplify the positive implications and develop and implementation strategy that will mitigate the negative ones.

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