By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker
People have an aversion to making decisions. The primary reason for this is fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people will think of their decision. Fear of losing money. Fear of change. Fear of the ramifications of a decision. Individuals and work teams look at making a decision as the time when they lay their credibility on the line. Therefore, their final decision may not be bold – or game changing – decisions. We hedge our bets and seek the comfort of minimum risk. Fear also causes us to procrastinate on making decisions.
To complicate matters, many times business decisions are done in tight time frames. In our fast paced, need-it-now-climate we are forced to make decisions quickly. Quick decisions keep the ball rolling. They keep a project on schedule. They help us meet customer demands and requirements. But, can fast decisions be good decisions?
Statistics show that the more time you spend on making a decision, the more accurate it will be. It makes sense. With longer deadlines you have more time to gather and consider facts. You have more time to consider alternatives. You have more time to get input from others with whom the decision may affect. The less time you spend on making the decision may cause you to overlook or ignore facts and alternatives. You will rely more on your intuition and assumptions – or worse yet, guesses. It will also not allow you time to seek input to judge the potential effects to others or to projects. So the time to accuracy ratio can’t be thwarted. More time, more accurate. Less time, less accurate. Of course exceptions to the rule exist, but for the most part – like the laws of gravity – time and accuracy is a force of nature in the realm of critical thinking by which we must abide.
So, how do we balance this ratio in decision-making so that we don’t spend too much time and suffer the wrath of “analysis paralysis?” Or, how can we prevent spending too little time and make more “gut decisions” where facts, feelings and other potential alternatives are ignored?
First, be clear on the decision you need to make. You can do this by “defining” your decision at the outset. A decision definition should have three characteristics.
- Start with an “action word” which describes the outcome you would like to achieve. Action words in decision-making include; buy, hire, implement, utilize, select or choose.
- Have a general “description” of the alternatives you are considering. Descriptions can be as simple as; a house, a car, a project manager, a computer system, a procedure, a process or a vacation spot.
- Include a “modifier” which will further define the type of alternative on which you want to decide. Modifiers include; the most productive, the most qualified, the most efficient, the easiest to manage or most economical.
Defining your decision will help you or a group save time by focusing on the “real” decision at hand. For example, let’s say you define your decision today as; “To buy a new car.” You have defined your decision by saying you are going to “buy.” This immediately saves time by eliminating all discussions of the pros and cons of leasing. (In fact, buying versus leasing is a separate decision you should have already made.) In stipulating that it will be “new,” this means you have eliminated consideration – and time – of looking at used cars. This starts to narrow your possible alternatives. Finally, you have said it is a “car.” This means that you will not be looking at SUVs, minivans or motorcycles. This is yet another way to save time by focusing your search on the specific type of personal transportation that you will consider.
Second, create a list of “eliminating” or “deal breaking” criteria – must haves! This is a set of criteria that each one of the alternatives you are considering “must have” or you will not consider it. It sounds simple, but often identifying eliminating criteria gets confused in the decision-making process. So let’s further define this set of criteria as something you cannot live without. Consider this analogy; In order for you to survive on planet earth, what must you have? Fans of the reality TV show Naked and Afraid will quickly mention; food, water, shelter and of course oxygen. Successful participants on this show have demonstrated that those are the four things they must have in order to survive 21 days in some remote and dangerous part of the world. Those four items are non-negotiable. In essence, that is the definition of eliminating or deal breaking criteria – if you don’t have it you will perish and die.
Once you have identified this set of criteria you can quickly look at your alternatives and “eliminate” from consideration those that don’t possess every single one of your deal-breaking criteria. Remember, if there are only four things that you must have for something as fragile as human life to survive, chances are you are not going to have an extensive list of eliminating criteria. In the car buying example above this might only include; must not to exceed your budgeted monthly car payment of $X and must be foreign (or domestic.) This step will narrow down your list of alternatives significantly.
Third, identify a set of criteria that you are going to use to make your final decision that are called “comparable” or “judgmental” criteria – like to haves! These criteria will help define the data you will need to gather and use to compare each of your alternatives to make your best choice. Again, using the car example from above this could include criteria such as; like to have maximum stereo features, best MPG performance, lowest annual maintenance costs, maximum warranty coverage, maximum comfort and maximum trunk space. From here you can begin to differentiate your alternatives by comparing the facts relating to your predefined judgmental criteria to select your “best choice.”
When you follow these three steps of decision-making you will begin making decisions faster than you do now and with more confidence. You will have greater focus on the best alternatives for you to consider. You will avoid analysis paralysis by defining – in advance – a finite amount of data you need to gather. In addition, you will be using an objective process that is based on facts that will help you gain support and buy-in quickly. Ultimately, it will help you find that optimum level in the time to accuracy ratio to make faster decisions with increased accuracy.
Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.