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How to make decisions

Decisions really are the toughest thing a manager or leader must do, on a day-to-day basis. Little decisions are the bread and butter of any manager’s daily life, but big decisions can be agonising.

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Not all good decisions can yield great results, but often they will.

I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review the other day, criticising the assumption that a good outcome means the decision was good. In fact, the article argued, a decision can be good regardless of the outcome.

Sometimes a situation doesn’t have a particularly favourable outcome, or sometimes things happen after a decision has been made that unexpectedly changes things. At other times bad decisions can yield good results anyway, because of any number of factors.

So obviously a good outcome is the desired effect of a decision, but a decision’s merit isn’t measured by the outcome, but instead by methodology. All sounding very scientific isn’t it? Well, you need to make decisions as if you were a scientist.

All decisions should be made logically. Depending on the size of your decision, it’s never a good idea just to rely on your gut (although your gut can be right, if its eaten well and is rational), and some serious analysis may have to be undertaken. Look at past decisions, past factors, look at statistics, and try to consider anything that may have influenced past successes and failures. I’m almost certain that the decision you have to make will have precedents, and there will have been similar situations and choices to others like you, both historically and contemporarily.

You’re thinking of doing this? Well what happened when so-and-so did it? Looking back is a great start, and although the decisions will not quite be the same, analysing them can really help.

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Analyse everything you can, without it becoming procrastination.

Its important not to be guided be emotions. That doesn’t mean you have to be a robot, but it does mean you have to look at what’s rational, and at what can be reasonably justified to others. As the grizzled police chief in a movie might say, hunches just aren’t good enough.

But really the most important thing you can do with a decision, is making it. Churchill said it best; ‘plans are worthless but planning is everything.’ For the all the analysis you might do, you shouldn’t worry about the outcome. Good or bad, you can use it to inform your next decision.

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