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Monday, December 06, 2010

Decision Making at GE

Leadership by fiat when done in moderation can drive change and set a course. 

“I think that if you run a big company, you’ve got to four or five times a year, just say, ‘Hey team, look, here’s where we’re going’. If you do it 10 times, nobody wants to work for you. If you do it zero times, you have anarchy.” 

Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric


Decision Making in a Crisis

By taking your time, evaluating the facts clearly and keeping the bigger picture in mind small business owners can make good business decisions.

In the current environment many of the traditional rules of business seem to have been changed. Yet we still have to make decisions, often quickly. Here are some thoughts on how you can make effective decisions in this challenging environment:

1. Get as much information as you can

Unless a decision is a ‘snap' one, you have time to get more information. Use this. Information isn't just ‘facts' about market size etc. Often the most important information about a decision is how key individuals are going to react to it. Can you sound as many people out as possible? Sometimes, of course, you can't do so directly, but is there any way you can get a feel for how they are going to react?

2. Plan your decision

Making a decision is a process, not something that happens in a moment. Plan the information gathering; give yourself a space to decide and make a plan for implementation.

3. Don't make decisions quicker than you need to in order to appear ‘decisive'

Very often people are pressurising you into a making a quick decision, because a quick answer suits them, not you. So instead, buy time - you almost always have more time than you think, and (unless you drag your feet excessively) deals usually get better if you wait a bit.

4. Keep the big picture in mind

It's easy to get led astray by short-term considerations. Sit back and ask yourself what the decision is ‘in service of'. What are your key values and long-term aims?

5. Know and clearly state what the ‘deal breakers' are

The old sales distinction between ‘must haves' and ‘would like to haves' comes in very handy when considering the consequences of various courses of action.

6. Take time out to make a decision

Give yourself time to marshal all the facts and devote your entire attention to the decision in hand. If you can, then go for a walk, and when you do so, don't force your mind to concentrate on the decision; let your unconscious mind turn the matter over. Then decide. But don't tell anyone.

7. Sleep on it

Live with the ‘trial decision' you made above for at least a night. This is an old piece of wisdom that is still of huge value in today's fast-moving and turbulent world.

8. Give yourself ‘wiggle room' - nothing ever works out exactly as expected

This is of particular importance in the current environment, when things seem to be changing so fast. This runs in the face of much comment on decision making; that praises people who force through unpopular decisions as ‘visionaries'. Actually, the visionaries are the ones who force through unpopular decisions that turn out to be right. If the decision is wrong, they get called other names. The best decision makers implement their decisions gently, in the light of changing circumstances. They are prepared to change tack if the world around the decision changes.

9. Make sure there is an escape route if things go really wrong

This takes the point above further. Sometimes decisions, however well made at the time, just turn out to be wrong. Then the role of the good leader is to admit the fact, accept the new circumstances and make a new decision. Sometimes it will be a simple reversal; more often a hybrid of the old and new.

10. Follow your intuition

If your head says yes but your gut feeling says no - it's wrong!