When the ship has sailed on business decisions…throw the confetti

I often see business owners and executives struggle with making decisions. Of course some business owners follow a logical process and follow through well. Of the ones who don’t, I see two camps. On one side, there are those who shoot from the hip – making abrupt choices based on their “gut.” On the other, I see ones who appear to go through a process and too often – after the choice is made – revisit or second guess, often repeatedly. In addition, those in both groups may run into difficulty by failing to ensure that there is consensus on how to implement the decision. For employees trying to carry out what the boss wants, you can imagine the confusion and frustration.

What’s wrong with shooting from the hip? If you don’t take time to think things through, involve people who will be responsible for implementing whatever decision is made and give clear instructions as to who has authority to implement what, expect resistance from employees (and even customers and suppliers) and inconsistent implementation. I have had the experience of asking employees about a particular company policy and had them joke that it’s like the weather in New England, if you don’t like it, wait a minute. Each time the “boss” is asked, the answer is different. Employees quickly learn this and continually seek guidance, making asking the boss a necessary step in every process. The boss leaves work each day harried and frustrated wondering why employees can’t do anything on their own.

What’s the problem with re-visiting? Pretty much the same thing as shooting from the hip. Once again, because the way forward isn’t clear, people don’t know how to follow through. Did we make that decision…or didn’t we? Back to asking the boss. Added to that is the employees’ frustration of thinking they know what to do and finding it’s changed.

Here a process for your next decision:

  • Make decisions when you need to. Ask yourself, when will the company need to act differently? Decide too early and you may lack needed information. Wait too long and you don’t give people the information they need to do their jobs.
  • Get the people who will be affected into a room, prepared with information needed to make a choice. If you’re looking, for example, at switching office supply vendors, make a list of the top products you buy in terms of both volume and dollar value, have a list of current pricing/discounting and payment/delivery terms in hand. Have the people who order and a typical user or two in the room. Determine if there’s a clear benefit to switching.
  • Put an implementation plan in place. Going back to the office supply example, decide when to change and who is going to tell the old and new vendors. Are there standing orders that need to be cancelled? Does someone in accounting need to set up the new vendor in the system? Determine who will gather any complaints about the new vendor. Decide how long to try out the new arrangement and set up a meeting to evaluate how things are going. Finally, talk about what kinds events would be considered serious enough to re-evaluate your choice sooner, and who should be informed.
  • Communicate the decision to all affected. Few things are more frustrating to employees than thinking they know the “rules” and finding out things have changed unexpectedly. This is especially true if people are away when a decision is made that impacts their day-to-day responsibilities. If there was someone you would have involved who was not able to participate, make a special effort to let them know immediately and give them a chance to voice their concerns. Do not open the decision up for review. Rather, let them know the agreed date to meet to see how things are going and ask them to withhold judgment until then.
  • Be willing to recognize and admit to mistakes. There will be times when what seemed like a great decision turns out not to be and it should be reversed. This is different from habitual second-guessing. Don’t stick to a course of action simply for the sake of looking decisive. And, be sure to provide employees with a clear explanation for the reversal.

The first few times you try this process you may find it cumbersome. If you stick with it, soon you will find it’s second nature and your employees will appreciate the clarity.


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at http://www.lauriebreitner.com.

1 comment

  1. Patrick Quinlan says:

    Great advice–throughout my career, I've been amazed at how times I've seen peers and supervisors make emotionally-based decisions–and proudly! It seems the fundamental psychological basis has been one kind of hubris or another: narcissism, power-politics, laziness, wishful-thinking, etc. I think about this a lot, and ask myself on most important questions why I want to do what I've decided. It's a good idea to step outside yourself and gain that kind of awareness on a consistent basis.

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