Decisions that don't result in the expected outcome aren't bad decisions!

Have you ever worked with a leader who doesn't make a decision? I have and as an action oriented person, it can be frustrating to work with. Great leaders make decisions. It can be scary making some decisions but great leaders also understand sometimes these decisions work out well, other times they don’t. Decisions that don’t result in the expected outcome are great learning opportunities.

You see the thing about decisions is we only know they are wrong when we make them and the result did not turn out as expected. Many of us make the best decision we can with the information we have available. If the result is great – we label it a great decision. If the result is not great – we label it as a bad decision.

I know I don’t wake up in the morning and set out to make a number of wrong decisions that day. Do you? I wake up in the morning and set out to make the best decisions I can that day. And I know I’m not alone. Most people do. I also know I've made a number of decisions that didn't work out as expected, regret and disappointment, sometimes even embarrassment sets in. It takes a pause, reflection and asking myself what could I have done differently in this situation. When I step up and away from it, I am able to process what I did and did not do, and what learning to take into the next situation.

We make decisions all the time. Day in and day out. What salary increases to provide? What resources to allocate to a project? What person to hire for the job? What marketing strategies to use? What job to take? The list goes one. Some of them work out exceptionally well and some don’t. 

When this happens they weren’t necessarily bad decisions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but we can’t use that to determine if a decision was good or bad. When decisions don’t work out these are great learning opportunities, the decision-making process needs to be reviewed and improvements made. 

What is a good decision making process?

The following is a widely used rational decision-making process.  

  1. Clarify the issue, problem or opportunity. This is foundation to the process. What is the problem? What is the opportunity? What do you hope to achieve? If dealing with a problem, it is important to identify the surface problems to the root causes or factors that create the problem. Many people get stuck here because they think they know what the problem is and have a tendency to jump to the solution. Asking the right questions will help determine the problem. Develop questions that don’t include a solution. One strategy I have also used is to re-frame the issue. For example - "What will happen if I invest $5,000 to this marketing strategy" can be re-framed to "What will happen if I don't invest $5,000 to this marketing strategy?".
  2. Gather information. Speak to as many people as possible to gather the facts and assumptions to help make a decision. Identify the difference between a fact and assumption. It is fine to use assumptions if the facts are not available or too expensive to collect, the assumption is logical or the assumption is based on fact. Make a list of what is fact and what is assumption. Ensure you have sought feedback and ideas from others - everyone who can be impacted by the decision and those people whom you think may not be impacted, but may have some ideas to offer.
  3. Explore your options. Make a list of all the alternatives. Discard the outliers – unsafe, impractical, illegal. Develop decision-making criteria and weigh each alternative against the criteria. It is important to develop the weighting criteria first. Criteria should relate to your overall goals. List the advantages, disadvantages and consequences (impact) of each alternative. 
  4. Select the best option. Now it’s time to make a decision. You may consider what your ‘gut’ feeling is telling you as you choose the option that has the highest value outcome. Again, review the consequences or impact of this alternative you have chosen. Ask yourself if there is anyone else you should speak to before you implement? Perhaps you want to run it by another person for one last review, or perhaps you need to let your own supervisor know your decision before you move to implementation phase.
  5. Take action to implement the decision. Now an action plan needs to be developed. Consider who needs to implement the action. Get together an action team if required. Ensure appropriate roles, responsibilities and resources are allocated. 
  6. Evaluate the results. The evaluation process is an important learning opportunity that will help make decisions more easily in the future. The evaluation is to determine the effectiveness of the decision-making process. Questions to ask are: What does success look like? What went well? What can be improved? Again, remember here the evaluation is about the process not the decision. 

Take some time to reflect on a decision you made that didn't work out as expected. What process did you use? Did you understand the true issue, problem or opportunity? Did you involve other people to get different perspectives? Did you assume you knew the solution without effective analysis? Reflect on a decision that went well, and ask yourself the same questions. 

We will all continue to make decisions every day - some large and many small. Develop your process and use it each time to help you make the most effective decision you can. And remember to always strive to...make the best decision with the information available.

Good luck!