Answer These Five Questions to Make the Best Decisions


In the 1970’s, economist Herbert Stein coined the term satisficing. He defined it as not making the best decision but the one that’s good enough. In the big picture, we satisfice lots of times every day. In some situations, our choices come down to, “Life’s too short.” In others, we decide not to “rock the boat.” In still others, “there’s only so much time in the day.” In most cases, this behavior is acceptable. But then there are those times when you know more is at stake. How should you approach decisions requiring your best effort? Before beginning, answer these five questions:

  1. What does success look like? The clearer your definition of the outcome, the easier it becomes to identify the risks, obstacles and steps for moving forward. Resist the temptation to act just because of outside pressure, pushy influencers, or impatience. Succumbing to these always costs you down the road.
  1. Who are the true stakeholders? Is it your boss or your boss’s boss? Is it the customer or the committee she reports to? Is it your child’s teacher or the assistant principal? Is it the salesperson or the sales manager? You get the idea. If the decision’s stakeholders are not readily apparent, probe a bit to be sure.
  1. What is the timing? Today’s world seems to demand immediate decisions for everything. The best decision makers set parameters to make sure they make the best choices. They push back on unrealistic deadlines. They prioritize and focus on the important rather than the urgent. They discipline themselves to think through timing when making decisions of significance.
  1. Should I be making this decision? Sure, it’s easier to just act. But what message does that send to those you supervise? How will they grow if you make all the decisions? On the other hand, maybe the problem has been turfed to you. Are you the best person to be making it? If not, what do you say? Whom should you refer? Effective decision makers aren’t afraid to assert themselves to ensure the best overall outcome.
  1. How important is this decision to me? The best decision makers are also good prioritizers. They don’t spend time choosing tee-shirt designs for the corporate event. They graciously refuse tasks they shouldn’t be doing. Sure, sometimes they end up doing didily for the boss. But even that gets finessed to the bottom of the list if possible. Their focus remains on the decisions of consequence.

So . . . how many of these habits do you practice already? What can you do to adopt the rest?

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