Decision-making is as much a part of a business owner’s life as breathing.
At any given moment, we are deciding whether to hire a social media specialist, how to handle an angry client, whether or not to approve a raise…
…it is a lot of pressure a lot of the time.
Even when we delegate decisions to staff, our gears are still turning in the background. What do we think of their decisions? If it goes wrong, what action should we take next? If it goes right, how do we double-down?
Decision-making is one of the most important skills we have as leaders. It is also a skill we need to cultivate in our team members. And yet, most business owners have no strategy in place for analyzing and optimizing their decision-making process.
Sure, they might consider what the results of a decision tell them about their client or market. They might ask themselves what the outcome indicates about the abilities of the person who made that decision.
But they do not stop to look at the way that decision was made.
When you observe and optimize your decision-making process, you unlock new possibilities for your business. You can make more decisions faster and with less stress. You can increase your rate of success. And you can create a greater sense of unity within your team.
To truly master the art of decision-making, start asking yourself these five questions on a regular basis.
1. Did I wait too long to make that decision?
Sometimes the decision-making process forces us to confront things we do not want to think about.
Maybe you have to determine how you are going to get out of debt. Or you have to figure out how you are going to handle that employee with the rotten attitude.
The tough thing about decisions is that we have to actually take action on the other side of them. And in situations like the examples above, we already know the action probably will not feel good.
So what do we do?
We save the decision for later. By then, we have got a bigger problem and a tougher decision.
When you look at the results of a decision, good or bad, ask yourself, “Could I have made an easier or more effective decision if I’d acted earlier in the process?”
If the answer is yes, that could be a sign that it is time to develop a habit of acting quickly.
2. Was that decision proactive or reactive?
Most business owners make decisions from a reactive mindset.
Reactive decision-making happens when a problem arises and your only goal is to make the problem go away. You want your bad day to go back to being a normal day. You want to avoid the worst-case scenario.
It seems logical, but let’s look at it another way:
You have blocked out time in your morning to reach out to a potential high-value client. But then a current high-value client calls, furious about something your team did on a recent job. The fear of losing this client sends you into reactive mode.
You are not thinking about how to grow your business anymore. You are thinking about how to keep your business alive. So you respond with loads of apologies and a huge discount to try to keep them happy.
The time you were going to spend nurturing a new relationship and growing your business has now been spent maintaining the status quo. That time is gone. You are not getting it back.
Now, let’s say you choose to make a proactive decision. This means your focus is not on avoiding disaster but on building opportunity.
When the angry client calls, you take a beat to remember your big goal for the day and you make a decision that prioritizes the goal. You cannot put off your existing client, so you use the conversation to gain a deeper understanding about client’s needs. Then you adjust your afternoon schedule so you can make your cold call, now armed with new insight.
When you make proactive decisions, you are always moving forward.
3. What really guided my decision-making?
Of the five questions, this is the toughest one to answer honestly, because we tend to hide the truth from ourselves.
When you look back on a decision — especially a decision you made alone — ask yourself what really inspired that decision. Were you really coming from a place of logic?
Or were you avoiding pain or chasing pleasure?
At a primal level, so many of our decisions come down to pleasure and pain, even in business. I see it all the time. A thriving business owner reaches a point in their strategy when they have to step outside their comfort zone. The fear of failure hits them hard.
And suddenly, they decide that their original plan was not the best plan after all. It is really better if they do this other plan over here. This new plan. This safe plan.
The more we develop our self-awareness, the better we become at making genuinely smart decisions. We learn how to tell the difference between our inner wisdom and our inner panic button.
4. Was I considering the data?
One sign that you are making decisions based on pain avoidance?
You are either dismissing the data, or you are not even looking at it in the first place.
I see this a lot with business owners who experience tremendous success in the first few years of their business, then suddenly decide to start another business.
Looking at the numbers, this does not make sense. They have doubled their revenue every year. Why would they want to distract themselves with a new enterprise… with something that is going to make it harder to continue their incredible trajectory?
More often than not, they are running away from the challenges of owning a growing business and returning to what they know: Small business success.
When you look back on a decision, no matter what the outcome was, ask yourself if you considered the data in the process.
Also ask yourself if you considered the right data. For example, did you completely overhaul your marketing campaign because you were obsessing over sales numbers and forgot to notice that you actually had a lot of leads coming in?
5. Were the right people involved?
It is so important to note who was responsible for every decision made.
This is not because you need to know who to blame. It is because this information is part of your effort as a leader to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
If your marketing expert makes a poor process decision, it does not mean they have failed in their job. You hired them to be great at marketing decisions, not operations.
You do not have to second-guess their ability. You just have to say, “Hey, next time you have to make a decision in this area of your job, invite our operations expert to join you. With your two areas of insight combined, you’re going to come up with a great solution.”
The same goes for you, too. If you are making all your leadership decisions in isolation, you also have a decision-making process problem. This is the entire reason you have a team: To surround yourself with people who sometimes know better than you.
Take the pressure off bad decisions
A bad decision is not the end of the world. In fact, it is a gift if you know how to examine the process that led you to that wrong conclusion.
Stay self-aware. Communicate with your team. Note what did not work and work to understand not just why it didn’t work, but why you incorrectly thought it would work.
This is how you go from struggling your way through decisions to approaching each obstacle and opportunity with clarity and confidence.
Be true. Be you. Be great.