Guest blogger and trusted business associate, Bill Boyer is the President of Tidewater CEO, a consulting/coaching organization for small company CEO’s. He can be reached at or 757-233-2577.

Tidewater CEODuring my many years of working with or in companies, I am often aware of individuals who are very reluctant to make decisions.  Decision-making is not easy, but not making these decisions generally leads to continuing problems in the company and sub-par performance.

The Latin word decido has two meanings.  It can mean “to decide” or “to fall off.”  Plants called deciduous have leaves that fall off.  “Taking the plunge” suggests relevance for both meanings.  Making the wrong decision provokes the fear of falling.  Maybe this second meaning drives indecision–we are afraid of falling or failing.  Or maybe we just don’t think the problem is big enough to require making a decision.  Yet delaying decisions normally makes the situation worse.

There are many various methodologies that can be used for decision making:  Pareto analysis, Kepner Trego, and PEST Analysis, for example.  Most of these are based on the following steps:

  • Define the problem or state the decision to be made.  This may be a simple issue, as when you obviously need to hire a new employee.  But if it is a more complex issue, you first need to define the problem and then try to understand it.  Define the problem by answering these questions:  where, how, when, and to whom it is it happening?  But the most important question to answer is “Why is this problem happening?”  If it is a complex problem, it may have to broken down into smaller segments; rank these according to severity.  It is often helpful to discuss the problem with someone else to verify that you understand the problem, and to solicit different perspectives as to where, how, when, etc.  This also helps clarify each person’s role in the problem.
  • Look for potential causes by not only making a list of your ideas, but also collecting information from other associates in private meetings.  Be sure to write these down.  After performing this analysis, develop a final list which defines all of the collective issues and/or the necessary criteria.  Prioritize these issues by determining which most likely has been the greatest contributor to the problem.  When deciding to add a new employee, get others to suggest the necessary job responsibilities needed for this position.  Then develop the job description for this position.
  • Identify the alternatives.  With most issues, you should include others in the process.  Brainstorm for solutions.  At this point do not make any judgments on each, just keep the list. This way you will collect as many ideas as possible.  If it is an employee acquisition decision, and it is appropriate to include other employees in the process, list the candidates. Now compare your solutions or candidates to the priority lists that you have developed. You may find it helpful to put a numerical ranking on each, with the higher number being the most important.
  • Now you should be able to narrow down your alternatives.  If you are using the numerical rankings, put an additional value on how well each alternative will address the issue.  Again the higher number is the most critical.  By multiplying the “importance” factor times the “effectiveness” factor, you should get a mathematical indication of the solution.  If you do not want to do this, use your judgment to rank each solution or individual.  Once you have identified the best alternative, test it by asking these questions.  Will it solve the problem for a long time?  Is it a realistic answer?  Do we have the resources?  Is it affordable?  And finally, what is the risk with each option?
  • Put the decision into action.  List the steps necessary to implement.  Does it change processes or procedures?  If so, define the changes.  More importantly, communicate the changes and define who will be responsible for each.  With personnel issues, it usually is just hiring the new employee. Although it could include terminating another employee.
  • Having made the decision, it is often easy to ignore this critical step:  monitor the results from the decision.  Are the changes on schedule?  Am I getting the results I expected?  Do I need to make some modifications?  If it is not working as expected, reevaluate.  No one makes perfect decisions all the time.  If we were wrong, do not be afraid to admit it.  Carefully review the process, the basis for the first decision, and make another decision.  Mistakes can be helpful when they lead to new learning and effective action.
  • Has the problem been solved?  Can we resume normal operations and not have to be concerned about the issue recurring?
  • And finally, what did we learn?  This analysis should help avoid similar problems in the future.

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