Q. I know that in business making good decisions is critical. Do you have any guidelines for good decision-making?
A. We think that the first step in good decision-making is to understand that not all decisions are created equal. We like to differentiate decisions along two dimensions: importance and urgency. We define an important decision as one that has the potential to have a significant impact on your business or on a person’s life. An urgent decision is one that you must make immediately; for whatever set of reasons, there is no time for further consideration. If you consider these two dimensions together, the result is the four types of decisions discussed below.
1. Neither Urgent, Nor Important
▪ Consider Taking No Action – If a decision is neither urgent nor important, you may not need to make it at all.
▪ Delegate to Others – Such decisions provide an opportunity for a manager to coach subordinates on how to think about decision-making.
▪ Delay to Less Hectic Times – Resist the temptation to focus on items that you can check off your “To Do” list quickly when there are other more important and urgent decisions that need attention.
▪ Beware of Morphing – Don’t delay the decision until it becomes urgent.
2. Urgent, But Not Important
▪ Don’t Overanalyze – Because these decisions are not important, going through a lengthy process to make the decision simply doesn’t make any sense. In some outrageous cases the cost of the time spent analyzing a decision can exceed the cost of making a wrong decision.
▪ Use Principles – Rules of thumb, guidelines, and principles can provide a great way to make decisions quickly and efficiently. This will also ensure that decisions align with the values of the organization.
▪ Listen to Your Gut – As an experienced businessperson, you have good judgment—don’t be afraid to use it.
3. Both Urgent and Important
▪ Prevent Morphing – Left unaddressed, many decisions will morph into this category. Don’t let this happen.
▪ Beware of False Urgency – Many decisions that are portrayed as urgent, aren’t. Don’t be pressed into making an important decision without careful consideration when you don’t have to.
▪ Reduce Urgency – Consider whether or not you can take steps to buy yourself time to make this important decision.
▪ Keep Options Open – Consider options that will allow you the most flexibility later. If possible, don’t get locked in.
▪ Consult Experts – These are the people that are the most likely to have immediate insight into the right direction to proceed.
4. Important but Not Urgent
▪ Identify and address the right problem – Solving complex problems requires asking a series of questions that are relatively easy to answer. The answers to these more straightforward questions then lead you to the solution of the more complicated issue.
▪ Have the right mindset – When you face a big decision, don’t be overcome by emotions. Ask two questions: (1) What do I want to happen next? (2) What do I have to do to maximize the probability that that occurs?
▪ Utilize appropriate analytical tools – For decisions that are important but not urgent, it is sometimes helpful to use decision-making tools. There is time to apply the tools and the cost of doing so is justified by the magnitude of the decision.
▪ Seek the counsel of experts – Any time you face an important decision seeking help from experts is a good idea.
▪ Live with your decision before executing – Make a decision and sleep on it before implementing.
Good decision-making is critical. Understanding the type of decision you are facing and responding appropriately will help you to increase your effectiveness.