The Problem with Most Decisions

There are two issues that I think wreak havoc on decisions. I think some people recognize this, and that is why they are afraid to make decisions. Others make decisions large or small without hesitation. While a lot of time is spent on how people should make decisions, I found that there are two broader issues that have to be addressed first. First, executives are good at making decisions, but not so good at making commitments to those decisions. Second, many executives do not realize what their part is in the decision process or are not treating their role with the proper respect it deserves.

First is that fact that most of today’s decisions are the equivalent of “I will try.” For example, a goal equals a decision. How many organizations have you been to where every goal/decision is mandatory? How would behavior change if they were? How would decision processes change?

Most companies go through planning processes, yet research has shown that on average only 15% of the initiatives in any company’s plans actually happen. That is an 85% failure rate! So, if those companies consistently do that each year, they create a culture of “our plans/decisions” equal “Let’s try” instead of “We must.” In my experience, that typically spells death to the likelihood of everyone doing whatever it takes to carry out the plan. Have you ever noticed in your organization that whenever something must get done, it does get done?

This takes us to the second issue, which is how someone could be going through a decision process and not treating it with the proper respect it deserves. Let me give you two common examples. First, imagine you are in one of those companies that have an 85% failure rate in following through on the initiatives of their plans. In other words, your company has a history of creating a plan and doing the equivalent of “putting it in a drawer” and doing something else. If anything you do during the year resembles the original plan, it is pure coincidence or something you would have done without planning. Typically, management teams in these companies do not see planning as a decision process. They see it as a company process they must go through, and the faster they get it done with, the better. However, by not following the overall plan, they are in fact making a decision. Our clients that have the proper planning regimen have been able to increase cash flow by two times, profitability by three times, and valuation by ten times.

Another way of not giving the decision process proper respect relates to giving and not giving your word. All day long people are asking for things from us. They ask us to complete a task for them, keep a secret, provide them with some type of information, etc. These are decisions to do or not to do something. Let’s see if you recognize some of these people.

Some people are masters at not responding. You may have sent some of them an e-mail asking for help. For whatever reason, they decided they did not want to get involved. Instead of saying that, they decided just not to reply. You followed up with several more e-mails and maybe a phone-call (which the non-responders let go to voice mail). You finally gave up. If you mention their lack of response when you finally see them, they pretend they never saw your e-mails and do not remember your phone call. Then there are those you ask to do something, and they say “I’ll try.”  This is their code for “forget about it.” They feel okay because they didn’t say “no,” and you get happy ears, thinking you got a commitment. It all changes when they don’t deliver, and you realize you got a “no” disguised as “I’ll try.” All of this is a part of decision-making of the worst kind.

One of the golden rules in business is to “to keep your word.” To keep your word, you have to give it. People who keep their word consistently create power and focus in their lives. Together, power and focus provide the ability to be more effective in shaping events and circumstances. Effectiveness, in turn, enhances our feelings of well-being. The better we feel, the more successful we become. In addition, failure to keep your word has a big effect on other people’s decisions/goals, and typically causes many of them to fail.

While I recommend that people need to have good decision processes, it is critical that they make the shift to mandatory decisions. Otherwise, those wise decisions that are made will be wasted. Additionally, people need to be more aware of when they are making or avoiding decisions. Instances where biases about specific circumstances, formal processes, informal interactions, or certain people may have a bigger impact on overall decisions than people realize.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies and people that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at 305.722.7213 or