Decision-making is tough, especially the life-changing ones. Wrestling with possible outcomes, attempting to ensure that others (especially those closest to you) are not negatively impacted by a decision, not being sure, realising that there could be unexpected fall-out – all this plays on the mind and ultimately on the emotions. The same is true in business environments where strategic decisions need to be made – executives have sleepless nights pondering decisions that need to be taken. Part of the battle here seems to be the limiting paradigm of having to make an “either/or” decision – a decision regarding only two possible options. I say “limiting”, as there may be many more (yet to be discovered) options that could be qualitatively far better.
Quality decisions are enriched by having quality options – a plethora of possibilities that have been well researched and have probably originated from a number of sources. Instead of listening to the loudest and most persuasive advisor, be it a fellow executive member or your own gut-feel, time is taken to evaluate possible options as if you were a consultant advising a business leadership team – the consultant having no selfish predisposition or politically-motivated agenda. The consultant’s motivation is to offer the best solution to develop personal reputation and thereby command better fees, so is unlikely to settle for any sub-par decision. Taking the consultant perspective, therefore, means doing the following:
- Source an extensive list of options – initially, no option is deleted off the list as impossible or bad. The answer may lie in a combination of various options, so all options are retained without prejudice.
- Research the options – get many involved in the research, apportion responsibility and manage the information received. Research could include the following:
- Analysts – there are consultants and other experts who support, advise or evaluate almost every industry. These professionals often spread their expertise in multiple formats: articles, books, videos, podcasts, white papers, etc.
- Industry websites – one good site can often provide you with a complete education about a given field.
- Industry associations – every professional field seems to have an industry association. These associations will offer information on industry trends, best practices and regulation shifts.
- Competitors – do research in what they are doing, what is offered by their respective value propositions, where they are placing their focus, what they are intending in terms of their future plans.
- Trade magazines – every industry has relevant periodicals that speak to issues faced by the industry. You also get insight into the professionals in the relevant field, as they write many of the articles. Use them as potential resources.
- Books – much has been written in specialised areas and many might give a comprehensive overview of the subject at hand. Of unique value, many of these books have been written with sustainability in mind.
- Benchmarks – establish industry benchmarks, if any, on the issue at hand.
- Cluster the options – at this point, you are not judging their respective merits, but just categorising them together with all their relevant research in folders. Outline each option graphically on large pieces of paper and paste at various intervals on the walls of the boardroom.
- Establish discussion rules with all stakeholders – these rules could include:
- Putting personal preference to the side during the evaluation exercise
- Listening to each other for the purpose of understanding, not trying to prove someone or something wrong
- Listing any concerns and/or new ideas
- Evaluate the merits of each option – this may be easy or difficult to do without further study. If necessary, appoint people to do further research on any option.
- Assess the best option or combination of options – issues here include:
- Alignment to values
- Alignment with strategic direction
- Alignment to brand value
- Cost/Profitability ratio
- Ease of implementation
- Cash flow impact
- If budget is approved, establish implementation responsibilities and accountability and communication structures for the chosen option – choose the very best people for the job at hand to ensure success for the project.
We make better decisions by sourcing better options. These options should build up to a decision which is sustainable and which has long-term benefits for the individual or the organisation. Pursue great options in order to make great decisions.