Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Little Help Deciding

“How do I avoid getting blind-sided??”

Twenty years in management roles has given me opportunity to live in an environment of endless decisions, daily issues to solve, mixed in with business altering change requirements. Within these two decades, I have managed commodity based sales and delivery; service based deliveries, as well as managing human resources and finance.

As a function of my roles, I have had opportunity to attend many training formal sessions. Most notably, courses on Conflict Management, Solution Selling, Relationship Building, Time Management, Project Management, Process improvement, and Positive Thinking. Additionally, a long list of business management sessions helped me shape my management style.

However, the session I found most rewarding and provided me tools to success, is the twenty year long training program... it is named. “Real life management experience”.

With all of these educational experiences, I enjoy the exercise of throwing all of the formal training and real life experience into a mixing bowl, and build a model that has a proven track record of success.

My attending formal training sessions, I meet with scepticism, and the real world generally proves that this scepticism is well deserved. I am not suggesting for a moment that formal management education is worthless. But without exception, concepts, rules, processes detailed in these sessions, appear to have been developed in a vacuum, well outside of the real business world.

So I am trashing all of my formal training?? not really, because each session, offers a gem or two buried in the content of idealistic theory. To gain real value (which I have) is to tailor concepts, new ideas, and process into actual day to day business decision making.

With this preamble, let’s get on to something of value to you. Decision Making.


The industry standard decision making tool is the SWOT process. Take a peek at the following link for more detailed explanation of the SWOT process. But in brief, it is a document (or framework) that you are required to detail the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I have no doubt that this is an effective tool in making decisions, however it is a completely UNREALISTIC process in regards to your efforts to manage your time. Significant business altering decisions, or those made by committee (I always chuckle at the oxymoron of the thought of decision by committee).

So, as promised – lets garbage the utopian ideals of formal training, and let’s focus on real life. My primary and proven decision making manta as the first step is … “How do I avoid getting blind-sided .. in other words, how can I prevent a result of my decision to be one that was unexpected or unanticipated. If you take anything away from your reading this.. take away the phrase.. “How do I avoid getting blind-sided ” the rest is easy.

From the smallest of choices I make, to choices that involve tens of thousands of dollars, I approach it with the visual of a tree – your introduction to the problem is the trunk and as you proceed upward, you are faced with more and more branches ending up with large healthy leaves. See these leaves as the outcome of the choices. As you visualize your tree..

Step One – SLOW DOWN.. any decision worth making, is worth taking the time required to make the correct one.. This can mean a 5 minute pause, or a 2 day exercise. A decision made is haste is made at your own peril. And outcomes will always be unexpected.

Step 2 – No blind-sides (this means you need to travel up every branch, and branches of those. Each branch is a different form of decision. You will almost always have a limb in mind that is the correct one. Don’t stop there, travel out that limb, to every branch and examine what the outcome will be. Now step back and travel all of the other limbs.. Follow to the end – to see that a decision that you may not have instinctively thought correct, may in fact have the desired outcome.

Step 3 – Understand that as you approach your decision tree and see the desired result clearly without appropriate thought.. The leaves at a distance, may not belong to the branch that you has assumed of as you are looking at the whole tree.

Wow.. Maybe visualization is not for everyone. In simpler terms, test drive your decision thoroughly. Take time to VERY thoroughly determine, and clearly understand ALL the risks of what could happen along the way of the desired outcome. IE: how will my customers react to this, how will my competitors react?, how will my partners react?, how will my bank react? How will my suppliers react?.. all of these in long term, and short term. It is my experience that decisions are made (with blinders on) to solve a single challenge, without a clear understanding of what other factors it will affect. This is called being blind-sided.

I strongly recommend that you resist the urge to consider the above well thought out decision a completed task and move on. Now, again, taking the time.. Examine outcomes and risks associated with a decision that your instinct considers wrong. You will be surprised that very frequently – this exercise of going against your instincts will in fact be the correct choice. 


Many a talented facilitator will present that it is required that you take the emotion out of decision making. I agree. But that is a ridiculous statement. That is IMPOSSIBLE. We are humans, and we have emotions. Every decision we make WILL be affected by our emotions, regardless what perfect theory may wish. As a personal note, if for any reason we are not affected by emotions in a decision.. WE are not the one to be making those particular decisions. I have been one of those annoying participants in training seminars that vocally contradicts instructors.. I sit in wait for them to announce that emotions cannot be part of the decision making process, I openly protest this irrational statement. I find it insulting and it decreases the credibility of the facilitator.

In fact, emotions certainly get in the way of proper decision making – and most of the times lead us astray from the correct path, and we end up disappointed and our hands full of managing undesired outcomes.

How do we minimize our emotions leading us astray??.. It is the exercise that I have detailed above. After we followed our instincts, examined ALL of the potential risks and outcomes – now we MUST go back and examine the same factors for options that our instincts (emotions) tell us are wrong. By forcing ourselves to go against our instincts as an option to our final decision.. We are minimizing instinct inputs and are looking at all of the choices logically. If need be.. Face the variety of directions of a choice as a cold heartless computer analysing all of the data. This is not removing emotion from the process, it is making you aware that it is affecting it – and awareness of this is your best coping mechanism for the risk of being steered astray buy “gut” feelings.

Finally learn from your mistakes, take the time to understand what happened when you sit, aghast , and in disbelief asking yourself “How in hell did that happen??”. You may find that you did not completely explore the decision tree, and didn't see your present situation on your list of risks.

This approach does not in any way now mean that every decision you make will be the right one. But adhering to it, will guarantee if something goes awry, you will have already known it was a risk, and you accepted that risk as a part of your initial decision making process. 

Have fun!

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