Paralysis by analysis. It's an affliction striking many of today's managers, and with good reason. They are inundated with data, coming at them faster and more copiously than ever before. At the same time, these managers are expected to make crucial decisions quickly in order to keep the business moving.
The desire to be well versed on an issue and confident in the decision, coupled with the fear of making a mistake, leads many managers to a state of indecision. And not making a decision is sometimes as detrimental as making a bad one.
Experienced managers should realize that over time, most situations they encounter are familiar. Human resources issues, productivity issues, manufacturing problems—after a while, they follow a similar formula. Although each problem has its differences, I estimate that 80% of the problems a seasoned manager encounters aren’t much different from previous ones. Naturally, you may get what I call a Black Swan—that 20% that represent a new or different challenge—but that doesn’t happen often.
While managers want to make the best decision possible, they also need to recognize that putting off a decision allows the situation to unfold on its own. That can put the organization at risk, and the manager's job is to reduce the organization's risk.
When managers are unable to make a decision, whether because they haven’t experienced the situation or because they require more information to make a proper judgment, they can take three steps.
- Talk to a mentor. New managers especially should seek out someone who has been around and is skilled in providing guidance. Unfortunately, new or experienced managers can be reluctant to ask for help because they fear looking inept; however, developing this kind of relationship is invaluable.
- Get the opinions of those involved in the issue. Sometimes a decision is hard to make because a manager is not certain of how it will impact others. Getting the input of those adversely affected by an issue can lend great clarity to a decision.
- Remember that decision making is about solving problems, and solving problems ultimately benefits the organization. Instead of getting caught up in the fear of taking a risk, managers should focus on their responsibility to help the company.
Ideally, all decisions we make in a timely manner will be the right ones. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. However, by making decisions in a timely manner, using available resources for additional input and prioritizing how the decision can best benefit the organization, managers can increase the odds of a positive outcome.
Paul, a "recovering employment attorney", is a Business and Executive Coach with a national clientele. He is also the author of WorkQuake, 76 ways to thrive in the Knowledge Economy, and a blogger for FastCompany.com. His writing is featured inThe Business Edge, Vistage, Manufacturing.net, and Food Manufacturing. Paul can be contacted at 630-913-6555 and firstname.lastname@example.org.