Making good decisions is critical to business success. The first step in good decision-making is to understand that not all decisions are created equal.
We like to differentiate decisions along two dimensions: importance and urgency. An important decision is one that has the potential to have a significant impact on your business or on a person’s life. An urgent decision is one that you must make immediately -- there is no time for further consideration.
If you consider these two dimensions together, the results are these four types of decisions, and how to approach them:
1. Neither urgent, nor important
- Consider taking no action. If a decision is neither urgent nor important, you may not need to make it at all.
- Delegate to others. Such decisions provide an opportunity for a manager to coach subordinates on how to think about decision-making.
- Delay to less hectic times. Resist the temptation to focus on items that you can check off your “to-do” list quickly when there are other more important and urgent decisions that need attention.
- Beware of morphing. Don’t delay the decision until it becomes urgent.
2. Urgent, but not important
- Don’t overanalyze. Because these decisions are not important, going through a lengthy process to make the decision simply doesn’t make any sense. In some outrageous cases the cost of the time spent analysing a decision can exceed the cost of making a wrong decision.
- Use principles. Rules of thumb, guidelines and principles can provide a great way to make decisions quickly and efficiently. This will also ensure that decisions align with the values of the organization.
- Listen to your gut. As an experienced businessperson, you have good judgement -- don’t be afraid to use it.
3. Both urgent and important
- Prevent morphing. Left unaddressed, many decisions will morph into this category. Don’t let it happen.
- Beware of false urgency. Many decisions that are portrayed as urgent, aren’t. Don’t be pressed into making an important decision without careful consideration when you don’t have to.
- Reduce urgency. Consider whether you can take steps to buy yourself time to make this important decision.
- Keep options open. Consider options that will allow you the most flexibility later. If you can avoid it, don’t get locked in.
- Consult experts. These are the people that are the most likely to have immediate insight into the right direction to proceed.
4. Important but not urgent
- Identify and address the right problem. Solving complex problems requires asking a series of questions that are relatively easy to answer. The answers to these more straightforward questions then lead you to the solution of the more complicated issue.
- Have the right mindset. When you face a big decision, don’t be overcome by emotions. Ask two questions: What do I want to happen next? What do I have to do to maximize the probability that that occurs?
- Utilize appropriate analytical tools. For decisions that are important but not urgent, it is sometimes helpful to use decision-making tools. There is time to apply the tools and the cost of doing so is justified by the magnitude of the decision.
- Seek the counsel of experts. Any time you face an important decision, seeking help from experts is a good idea.
- Live with your decision before executing. Make a decision and sleep on it before implementing.
Good decision-making is critical. Understanding the type of decision you are facing and responding appropriately will help you to increase your effectiveness.