As directors of a company, the decisions we make can have a huge impact on an organisation. It’s important that as a senior team, we question each other and the decisions we make, explaining and understanding the rationale.  It’s important that we try to make sure we aren’t taking the easy route and that the decision, especially if a seemingly obvious one, is the right choice.  Often, it’s almost impossible to know without any hindsight.  But it is a balancing act to avoid over-analysis and too much debate can lead to decision paralysis. 

Yard is a data-driven agency that operates in an agile fashion. This means we move fast, experiment and learn. Fundamentally this means we can fail fast, or learn and optimise along the way. Waiting for perfection has, in years gone by, meant we’ve been paralysed into not making decisions. So there are 3 routes we can take, which I’d like to explore: 

  • No decision making 
  • Slow decisions 
  • Fast decisions 

No decision making. 

In my mind, this is the worst route of all. By not committing to anything we’re leaving the organisation and teams stranded. Directionless, non-committal, and crucially learning absolutely nothing. In fact, this route falls into the very definition of madness – no decisions, really equates to doing the same thing over and over = the same outcome win or lose. But there must be reasons why business leaders won’t make those tough decisions. 

Having read several studies, the most common reason for being indecisive seems to be a fear of failure. Making a decision could result in committing to something that goes wrong. There are 2 reasons why this is a problem: your organisation is not set up to embrace or encourage failure. The second is a fragile ego. 

In order to overcome this, we need to look at our organisation. Is it safe to ‘fail’ – if a wrong decision is made, and it becomes obvious over time that this wasn’t the correct route, what happens? Do your managers and colleagues make it safe to change trajectory without blame?  Or is the company culture finger pointing and blame?   

If you’re inside the right organisation that supports your failures as well as takes the wins, it’s unlikely that your ego needs too much protection. 

Another reason for not making decisions could be a lack of information – this leads to decisions being delayed until more information can be gathered.  There are a couple of ways to overcome this.  Start by establishing how long will it take to gather the information.  For instance, is the data already inside Business Intelligence or are brand new processes and reports required. If it’s the latter this can lead to paralysis as those reports are built and optimised and the information dissected. Again, I would argue it’s far better to have made a conscious decision and have it revisited as the information comes to light. 

I would argue an indecisive leader who makes no decisions is worse than a leader who makes poor decisions.  The outcomes of poor decisions have a chance of providing learning. 

Slow decision making. 

This is probably the area I personally have been most guilty of in the past. I know I have frustrated my colleagues with my decision anxiety.  If you drag out a decision, it weighs on your mind and you constantly flip-flop choices, which is pretty tiring. 

I have learned over the years that a good way to combat this is through polling opinion.  Now, I consciously sit and plan to try and identify which people or teams are directly impacted by the decision to be made and gather their input – by speaking to all the stakeholders you’re letting them know you are taking the decision seriously and not deliberately being slow. This is often invaluable, as there will be points presented that you simply have not thought of.  Once these inputs have been gathered, I create a ‘proposal’ –often an informal process. I will share with stakeholders and again, ask for their opinion.  We’re unable to please everybody, so once the decision is made and shared it is here that you must ask for everyone to commit to supporting the decision, rather than agreeing with it.  It feels uncomfortable, but you all get used to it – no one’s feelings should be hurt, we all have an opinion, but the decision maker needs to be confident they understand as many angles as possible.   This has helped me make better decisions. 

Fast decision making. 

Quick decision making, ideally should have SMART goals.  If they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely then it makes it easier to make decisions fast.  

However, we don’t always have the luxury of time.  This is where a decision-making framework, alongside a working environment that is safe to fail, is essential. 

If, as an organisation, you employ people in leadership roles, it’s your responsibility to embrace this and allow safe decision making.  

study McKinsey conducted with 1200 managers across a range of global companies, for me, had 3 key learnings: 

  • There are different types of decisions to be made, and McKinsey created a framework to help categorise these decision types. Starting there can help with who should make the decision (below) 
  • Among the respondents there were clear signs of frustration in the slow pace of decision making deliberations, leading to uneven quality of decision making outcomes. This comes with staggering opportunity cost: some $250 million in annual wages! 
  • The study also showed that there is a strong correlation between quick decisions and good decisions, which suggests that the assumption ‘we can have good decisions or fast ones, but not both’ is flawed. 

You decide 

The bottom line is business leaders, you want to recruit brave leaders to make the difficult decisions and learn from them.  This starts with the culture of your organisation: yes of course results driven but use a framework that tracks those decisions openly and allows the pivot if these paths aren’t returning the desired results.  None of us has a crystal ball, and we can’t always be right 100% of the time. But making conscious decisions that are defendable mean that if the decision proves to be wrong it can be openly discussed, addressed and a new course planned and that knowledge shared widely, provides us all with learning, knowledge and experience to make even better decisions next time. 

Collette Easton