This morning at 8:15 am I was standing at line at Starbucks, skimming through my inbox for anything I absolutely needed to read, I was a bit distracted thinking about the traffic and my to do list, when suddenly, I was being asked, “What can I get you?”
My mind blanked and I had no idea what to say.
The barista was asking me to make a decision. A decision I should have already made when I had been too busy pondering traffic and emails.
A long moment of complete silence followed before I mindlessly ordered my drink and did my best to return her warm smile.
As I burnt my tongue on the hot latte, I got to thinking: every day we are asked to make quick decisions. We are forced to make them, really. Whether it is as small as placing our coffee order or as big as deciding which applicant to hire, there are imminent deadlines to our decisions. And we have to see them coming. We have to be prepared for how we will handle them, so we can make them quickly and effectively.
As a leader, how can we make good decisions while also being fast on our feet?
It doesn’t matter how good your decision is if it takes you two weeks to come up with every answer. Business changes every day, and you don’t want to be blocking people from getting things done just because you can’t make up your mind. Your job is to facilitate good work, not hold it up because you are afraid of being wrong or don’t get the right information.
People don’t always want to wait for a consensus and sometimes it is more important to be quick and decisive than spend too much time pondering different paths.
Based on that I did some research and combined that with my own experience to compile some strategies that will help you feel decisive and confident making quick decisions.
Define your outcome.
At the end of the day, what do you want or need the result of this decision to be?
If your goal is to hire the applicant that will help you ship your new product, then evaluate all of your applicants in light of that criterion; no matter how much you liked Sally, if Sandra will fulfill your goal better, you can feel confident making a decision to hire Sandra.
It is easy to get hung up when you are considering every possibility. However, every possibility isn’t usually important. Think about the key reasons why you are making a decision. What problem are you trying to solve? What would a perfect outcome look like, and what would make it perfect?
Look at the forest and the trees.
When making a decision you are often required to envision how something will play out short-term and long-term. Keeping both in mind is likely to help you be happy with your decision long-term. Going with a lower-cost solution may save you money now, but also consider how investing in building up infrastructure now may save you money in the long run.
Which is more important? Which is better for your company’s long term and short term goals? Evaluating your decision with a 3 month, 1 year, and 5 year timeframe in mind will help you see the pros and cons to each option over the course of time.
Check out the 10-10-10 method as another way of making decisions you’ll be happy about ten minutes from now, ten months from now, and ten years from now!
Test out your decision.
Not every decision has to be final. If the decision you are making is going to be a long term change or will affect a large number of people, see if you can test it out by creating a trial period or implementing it in one department rather than your whole company.
You might be on a deadline for making a decision about which project management software you’ll be using, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it later if it isn’t working. Asking for input at the end of a trial or test period also demonstrates your flexibility and desire for feedback as a leader. Be open to the fact that things always change, and there are very few decisions that can’t be reconsidered or improved with more data later on.
Consult other people.
Asking for help doesn’t make your decision less valid or your leadership less strong. You can’t be an expert in everything, and getting outside perspectives is a really important way to make the best possible calls.
Pick a few people who can help you with their experience/expertise (and make it a finite number so you can’t use “asking for advice” as a way to put off making a decision; ask X number of people and then make the call.). If the decision you are making is going to affect an entire team, you might ask the head of that team what they think would best suit their goals, preferences, needs, etc.
Similarly, if you are the head of a department, there may be another department that had to make a comparable decision; talk to them about what successes and failures they experienced. Use the input of other people to make a well-informed decision but do not let it overshadow other considerations you need to make in reaching a decision.
Talk it out.
I love using networking time as an opportunity to work through big ideas I have on my mind. Unlike consulting individuals who can help you make a decision, this strategy is aimed at finding someone with a neutral view point who will simply listen to you explain your decision and then give you their perspective.
Sometimes when we are faced with too much information, we get lost in it. Talking it out with someone who is removed from the situation can help us see glaring holes in our decision or confirm that our decision making process is sound.
Identify your thinking time/place.
When and where do you make your best decisions? Try thinking through the past 2-3 big decisions that you made. Where were you and what were the circumstances?
Once you know all your options and the details associated with each (which the tips thus far should have helped you accomplish), you then have to get to the business of making a decision.
For me, no matter how many facts I’ve gathered, it isn’t until I go for a run or a hike that I can really start to evaluate them comparatively. Many other people find similar things, that your best thinking doesn’t happen at your desk, but when you are out somewhere else where your mind is free to wander and make connections.
Whether you do your best thinking during your morning shower or at Starbucks while sipping on your latte, figure out your prime decision-making time and place so you can head there when you’ve gathered all of the information you need.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter how much time you spend making a decision, there is always a chance that it won’t turn out the way you had envisioned. Being a leader means making decisions, but it also means making mistakes and then fixing them. Use these strategies to guide your quick decision making but be prepared to do it all over again if things turn out differently.
Do you have other ideas or strategies for evaluating things quickly? If so, leave them in the comments – I am always looking for new ideas to help reach decisions faster.