The average person makes around 35,000 conscious decisions daily. Get up or hit the snooze button? Exercise or get in to work early? Answer the phone or let it go to voicemail? Just thinking about all the sliding doors moments that happen in a single day may have you wishing you could just switch to robot mode.
As the owner of a small business that decision-making burden is a whole lot heftier. Plus, the consequences of the decisions you have to make can often have a significant impact – not just on you, but also for your business, your finances, your family, your team, your suppliers and your customers.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision” – Peter F. Drucker
Decision fatigue: the struggle is real
You know that ‘I-can’t-face-making-one-more-decision’ feeling that hits by mid-afternoon? You’re not imagining that. It’s called decision fatigue and it can negatively impact your ability to make the best call.
There are two things I coach my clients on to offset the effects of decision fatigue in their day:
- Tackle important decisions in the morning – sure, you can’t always predict when a decision will have to be made. However, if you can delay delivering your verdict until the morning, you could head off a major lapse of judgment. Schedule important decision-making in the first half of your day to make sure that you are fresh and focused.
- Automate as many small decisions as you can
Simple things like eating the same thing for breakfast each day and allocating routine tasks to certain days of the week can all help to reduce the number of small but frequent decisions in your life. By lightening your thought load, you’ll feel less worn out when you need to make a tough call.
You’re just seven steps away from making any decision
No matter what decision you are making (or which method you choose) there are seven stages involved:
- Clarity – you recognise that a decision must be made
- Get your data – you must work out what information you need and how and where to get it from. This information may be sourced internally (What do I want? What do I believe?) or externally (online research, talking to other people, etc)
- What are your options – there are usually several scenarios to choose from (or no decision would need to be made). At this stage you will need to map each option out to its natural conclusion
- Weigh it up – you will need to call upon both your rational thoughts and your emotional responses to rank each scenario in order of preference. Assess the potential of these alternative pathways in terms of reaching your goals.
- And the winner is – time to choose! While it is likely that you will end up going with the option that made top spot in your list from step 4, there may also be scope to combine some of the alternatives on that list. (Keep an open mind!)
- Just do it – made your decision? Then act!
- How did it go? – this might be the most important step of all (and the biggest opportunity for growth). Did your decision resolve the issue? If not, you may need to repeat certain steps in the process. For example, you could return to step 2 and gather more information that might help you identify other alternatives. You should also take the opportunity to examine what went well in your decision-making process and what might work better next time.
4 tools to help you make better business decisions
There are many ways to move through the steps outlined above. Since different decisions require different approaches, it can be handy to have a range of tools in your belt especially for business owners who need to make informed decisions quickly.
We mentor our business coaching clients to use a combination of these four tools when trying to determine the best course of action:
1. Pros and Cons ‘Plus’
There’s nothing like a pros and cons list to help you visualise the elements for and against an option. However, not all elements are created equal. When hiring, for example, cultural fit is far more important than previous experience using an easy-to-learn software program.
This is where the ‘plus’ comes in. You can give the appropriate weight to the elements on your lists by applying a points-based ranking system. When you tally the numbers at the end, you’ll have a more realistic view of whether the pros outweigh the cons (or vice versa).
2. Scenario Planning – If this, then what
Scenario planning is like creating one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books we all loved as kids. It gives you the opportunity to fully imagine how each of your potential decisions might play out, without having to live with the consequences!
You’ll need to:
- Choose several likely scenarios based on current trends within your own business, your industry and even at wider society levels
- Map out and mentally forecast the future for each of these scenarios
- Use this information to make a choice that works against a backdrop of all the trends you identified in the first step
This is where you imagine a future-state where the worst-case scenario has occurred. You can then work backwards, addressing the steps that you would have taken to end up there. This works because it bypasses our natural bias towards believing that things will most likely work out. It also gives you and your team the opportunity to safely raise concerns and issues about each scenario, without seeming unsupportive or like a naysayer.
4. Red Teaming
This is a military method of quality-checking your decisions. By making it someone’s mission to disagree, you are provided with an outsider’s perspective (and a devil’s advocate). This method helps overcome groupthink (where people in groups tend to agree to keep the peace) and highlights the weak spots in each plan. A red team achieves this by:
- challenging assumptions
- exposing hidden threats
- identifying missed opportunities
- stress-testing plans and strategies
Red team is a role I often perform in my role as business coach for my client. To do it well, you need to know the business, the people in it, the customers and suppliers and the market they’re operating in. Whether you assign the role of red team to one of your staff members or use an external (and knowledgeable) resource, it’s a valuable tool for boosting objectivity in your decision-making.
My top tips to help you avoid analysis paralysis
If you’ve used one of the above tools to move through the seven decision-making steps and still can’t choose, you’re suffering from analysis paralysis. Basically, you’re over-thinking it.
I use these 5 tips with the owners of business I coach to help them tackle analysis paralysis, so I know these really work!
- Set a deadline – applying a little extra pressure can stop you dragging your heels. Set a date (or timer if you really need to get the job done) and when the time’s up force yourself to choose. No. Matter. What.
- Go with your gut – instinct counts for a lot when it comes to decisions. If an option seems like the best choice on paper, but something gives you pause, then trust yourself. Something is setting off that internal alarm. Go with what feels right.
- Remember that ‘done is better than perfect’ – remind yourself that it is very unlikely that any one option is the perfect decision. If there was a clear winner amongst the alternatives, then it wouldn’t be such a tough call. Trust the process – if you have done due diligence you can’t go too far wrong.
- Understand that you can’t please everyone – sometimes a decision that benefits your business will be at odds with what other stakeholders (team, customers, suppliers etc) may prefer. I coach my clients that instead of trying to meet everyone’s expectations, they should back themselves and remain positive about the choice they have made. You may be able to sell people on the benefits once they understand your perspective.
- Remember that most decisions aren’t permanent – chances are that if you realise that you’ve wandered down the wrong path, you can pivot and head off in another direction. It may mean some inconvenience or extra cost but learning from your mistakes can be a great education.
The process for decision-making is the same whether you are selecting a holiday destination or determining your next strategic business move. The only difference is that the stakes are higher, so you are more aware of that process. If you have trouble making tough calls in your business, the tools above will help you weigh up your options and stress-test your plans so you can move your business forward with confidence. You got this.