It’s time to get better at making decisions in your business


This post is not perfect. But it is done.

For the longest time, it wasn’t done. Not because I hadn’t finished writing it, but because I nearly didn’t start. I hadn’t started because I couldn’t decide on ‘the perfect topic’.

I got hung up on this for a while (no, it wasn’t garden-variety procrastination. I’m a writer, goddammit. I know the difference), until I realised it didn’t need to be perfect as much as it needed to get done. That realisation hit me just after I discovered I’d been telling my team the exact same thing about a project they were working on. Probably time to see what flavour my own medicine was.

Decide to get better at making a decision

My team is brilliant – creative, effective, productive, committed. But we have the handbrake on in terms of software and technology. Too many of our processes are still too manual and it’s cramping our ability to scale and respond. Manual processes are petri dishes for manual errors, and our clients hate errors (seriously, who doesn’t?). I’ve been asking the team for solutions for some time now, yet they’ve not materialised. And it was starting to drive me crazy.

When I unpacked the problem with them, it appeared the main roadblock wasn’t a lack of choice – it was the overwhelming choice. Coupled with some fairly high-stakes outcomes (the software we choose will fundamentally run the business), the team’s decision-making had become paralysed. It wasn’t so much a case of ‘what if we make the wrong choice?’ so much as a fear of missing out on a better choice.

It was like we were playing at Tinder for operational platforms. We just kept swiping right, but never seemed to get beyond first base.

Here’s how we’re learning to embrace commitment:

1. You have to know what you want before you see it

Like finding your dream job, or a compatible partner, you have to know what a ‘good choice’ looks like before you start looking at the brochures. It feels like a chore, but you have to get clear on your user requirements first. And make sure you canvas every user. If you don’t know what you are looking for, everything (and everyone) starts to look like a possibility. And that gets you nowhere.

2. Don’t take it for a spin — use it in anger

We’ve sat through plenty of demos, sometimes we even have ‘a play around’, but we’re going to have to bite the bullet and run a couple of live jobs through the system to see how each one performs for us.

Software is like relationships: no pressure, no truth.

We’re also going down the bespoke route and actually developing our own software to support a new product line, and that taught us about MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Using the thing for real prevented us from building features we thought we’d need, but actually don’t.

3. The breaking point? Look behind you

We apply the same approach to people by letting them handle live ammo from day one. This gives us a very real sense of their capabilities, very quickly. If they handle the pressure, we add some more. Not to be mean, but to discover limits, in a controlled manner. Often, very good people aren’t aware of their own limits, because they rarely get taken beyond them. That’s a risk we can do without. We push ourselves, and our partners so we know what it feels like (and are comfortable being there) when our clients do it to us.

4. What’s the worst that could happen?

No, seriously. Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome would be if you decided to make a decision and invest in a new set of tools, hire that promising candidate, engage that new supplier, launch that prototype or buy that dirtbike*.

Our 3D Brand Strategy process uses a brand risk assessment method to help our clients discover vulnerabilities, generate mitigation plans and allocate resources appropriately. We use a similar method in our own decision-making, to help us be more informed and objective about the risks we’re facing. Which helps us be lot more confident about the risks we’re taking.

5. What’s riskier than doing nothing?

If the answer is ‘probably nothing’ (OMG the paradox!) then it’s time to hit the go button. On something. Just don’t take the ‘set and forget’ attitude. Monitor it closely. Use the tools, work with the person, evaluate often and be prepared to call a mistake a mistake (if it turns out that way). Then put your mitigation plan into action.

Pay for your mistakes, but always keep the receipt.

6. It could be time to ask (and pay) for help

Turns out, none of us in the business are very skilled at analysing a businesses’ needs and selecting the appropriate solution. It’s time-consuming, it’s specialised and it’s taking us away from our core business.

However, it turns out a Business Analyst is perfectly suited to the task (who knew?), so we’ve got one of those to help us make a better decision, faster. It could be a friend, colleague or mentor (rather than a paid professional), but an objective view is often worth its weight in gold. Just be aware that you can sometimes get what you pay for.

There are a lot of parallels from the start-up world (MVP; fail fast & fail cheap etc) that might appear like snappy excuses to placate venture capitalists when you’ve spent all their money, but amongst the sloganeering you might just find a few good frameworks for dealing with risks of all varieties.

Whether you’re running a business or a career, risk is really the only game in town. There’s no harm in learning how to play at a higher level.

*I’m currently testing this exact hypothesis at the moment. I’ll let you know how it works out.


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