Are You Satisficing When You Shouldn’t?

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the decisions we need to make could be resolved by selecting an option from a menu? It seems like all of those offering us digital products and services want us to do so. “You don’t need to think anymore,” they say. “Just choose from our menus and we’ll do the rest.” Of course, life is not that easy and never will be. But it sure is tempting, especially when we’re suffering from decision fatigue.

As I spend time with people every day, one of the patterns I see is a desire to make faster decisions, simply to get items off the to-do list. This is a reasonable goal, but we must be careful not to let the significant decisions get shuffled into this menu-driven process. In the 1970’s Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon coined the term “satisficing.” He defined satisficing as not making the best decision but the one that’s good enough. Satisficing is a perfectly acceptable strategy. In fact, it might be best approach for most of everyday life. Why would you spend 20 minutes selecting the perfect sandwich for lunch or perfect the entre for dinner?

But then there are those decisions that require the utmost of care. Maybe it’s which software application to choose for a new product launch. Perhaps you’re hiring for a position with which you will interact every day. Maybe, it’s that sales presentation that will have an out-sized impact on your annual commissions. These have gravity, don’t they? Yet too many times, we allow them to get squeezed by all the pressing matters that continually pile up. Truthfully, it just feels better to cross a bunch of little stuff off the list rather than one big decision. But spending your time “clearing the decks” will not allow you adequate time to give the big decisions the focus they deserve. In the end, you can make a choice that’s “good enough” but properly not serve you or the others involved.

So, how do you satisfice the majority of the time, yet preserve enough energy for the decisions of consequence? Here’s what I’ve seen the best decision makers do:

First, they work to reduce the number of decisions they make. They take stock of the digital distractions that worm their way into everyday routines. They say “no” to convenience apps that end up consuming more time than doing something manually. They refrain from accidental Google and YouTube binges when searching for relevant information. Most importantly, they set aside time to focus on significant decisions and protect that time by leaving the work environment. They are comfortable going “off the air,” and training their colleagues to respect these times. (They also encourage others to do the same. What times during the week can you take away from normal routines to focus?)

Second, they delegate decisions others can, and should, be making. A construction executive told me he sometimes struggles to delegate simply because he’s done everything he asks his subordinates to. “A lot of the time, I can do it faster,” he said. But then he reminds himself that each task still takes time and besides, those he supervises are not learning if he does it instead. How many times in the past week have you “done instead of delegate” and robbed someone else of the opportunity to learn?

Third, they expect those bringing decisions to them be well prepared with clear reasoning and recommendations. Another executive told me she divides her day into 15-minute segments, allowing her to better manage time and priority. “If you get on my calendar for 15 minutes, I expect you to be clear, succinct and ready with the alternatives from which I can make a decision. Spending ten minutes explaining the issue and then asking, ‘What do you think?’ does not go over well.”

Nothing I’ve mentioned above is rocket science. It is simply a matter of setting and enforcing standards of practice and expecting others to do as well. All this, of course, does not happen overnight. You be facing your own resistance to a change in routine along with that of others. But small and incremental changes in practice build over time and result in better decisions and outcomes.

The Blessings and Curses of Conveniences

Dan, a senior executive, recently told me of driving around in his prized 1977 Chevy pickup with his 16-year-old grandson. “Hey Grandpa,” the young man said, while holding a latte, “Where are the cup holders?”

“We didn’t have cup holders forty years ago,” answered Dan who then added, “Roll down the window. Let’s get some air in here.” It took the better part of a minute for the grandson to solve that problem. Then there was the manual gear shift . . .

As much as older folks laugh about incidents like this, we should keep in mind that conveniences like cup holders, electric windows and automatic transmissions are both blessing and curses. Those who create these inventions do so because they’ve felt or observed a need. Their creativity allows those who have felt this need as well to save time or enjoy a “creature comfort.” But those who come of age after the convenience’s debut take them for granted and can founder when the convenience doesn’t work, the battery dies or simply isn’t applicable.

I have argued endlessly that there is an inverse relationship between convenience and resourcefulness. The more conveniences we create, the less resourceful the next generation becomes. Now, I’d be the last person to argue for the “dark ages,” as some refer to the time before digital technology. But how do we compel those coming of age to develop the skills and confidence necessary when there’s no button to push or app to open?

Number one, stop saving their butts. Most managers discover that answering “quick questions” results in an ever-increasing volume of quick questions. This practice inhibits the development of resourcefulness and creates a giant time suck. If you start telling them to “figure it out,” they will do so a surprising amount of the time. Establish this as an expectation and over time those around you will rise to the occasion. (For more on this, read my post on think-alouds.)

Number two, help them scaffold their learning. The good decision makers I know carry a diary, notebook or some other means of recording insights as they occur. By the way, when you write ideas down, rather than typing or dictating them, the brain does a better job of creating schemas. Schemas are what the brain uses to categorize and organize what you learn. (Knowing how to change a tire or fry an egg are examples of schemas.) When those you supervise discover something new, ask “What have you learned? And wait for them to put it in their own words. (This works on your kids as well.)

Number three, praise them for “putting their mind to it.” You could say, “Good job” or “Atta-boy.” But it’s more effective to compliment the specific behavior by saying something like, “I like the way you . . .” That way, they will be encouraged to try that approach the next time they encounter a similar challenge. None of this is rocket science. But the best managers make these ideas a ritual with those around them. How about you?

Critical Thinking: The Economy’s “Other” Skills Gap

A lot has been written recently about the skills gap facing today’s economy. Researchers credit several sources for this phenomenon. First, the Baby Boomers will finally retire in droves over the next decade. Second, there has been a diminished interest in the hard sciences, resulting in a deficit of healthcare professionals and scientific researchers. Third, significantly fewer young people are choosing the skilled trades as a career. This is creating headaches for contractors, manufacturers and service companies. (It is also why we pay plumbers $100 just to walk through the front door.)

But there’s another skills gap that is dogging the productivity of virtually every organization in the US. That’s the deficit of critical thinking and problem solving skills among those entering the workforce. It’s what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahnemann calls “an invisible tax on the bottom line.” Ask the average employer. He or she will relate story after story of young workers who lack “common sense.” Translation? They do not possess the nuanced problem solving skills to perform their jobs independently.

Now, before I’m attacked by the Millennial hordes seeking my scalp, let me stipulate that there are millions in this generation who are contributing to our economy in amazing ways. But for every one of them, there is a multiple of those the same age lacking the basic thinking skills that will enable them to thrive in their jobs. Tragically this includes those both graduating from high school and college.

Responsibility for this phenomenon is shared among a number of sources: 1) The influence of digital technology, resulting in “menu-driven thinking,” defined as an over-dependence on digital cues; 2) The breakdown of the familial structure from which those in past generations learned norms and practices essential to the development of critical thinking skills and the confidence to use them; 3) Societal messaging focusing on convenience, immediate outcomes, and victimization. (“If I can’t figure it out, it’s not my fault. Something or someone else is to blame.”)

But playing the blame game will not resolve this issue. Neither will public policy. Billions of dollars have been spent on education legislation including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. These have not, however, resulted in any measureable improvement in the problem-solving skills of those graduating from high school. Yes, many have been taught the principles of critical thinking. But here’s the thing . . . teaching students how to think critically does not produce critical thinkers. Compelling them to think critically does. Sadly, so much time is spent on content delivery in the average classroom, little time is left for application. Yes, they can pass the state assessments. But many struggle to thrive in the average workplace.

As much as employers might object to the added burden, it falls to them to correct this situation. This has to be accomplished in three ways:

Improve employee selection. I’ve written and spoken extensively on hiring over the years. What I hammer home each time is the use of practical applications during the screening process. Let’s face it, interviews don’t work. Compelling applicants to demonstrate their thinking skills is the closest you’ll get to ensuring an accurate evaluation of how they can perform on the job. Experiencing a shortage of applicants who meet these requirements? Hire the best you can find and be prepared to train and coach them from the get-go. At least you’ll know in advance where the work is needed.

Partner with local schools. This advice has been shouted from the rooftops for years, yet I am shocked at how few employers reach out in this manner. Want the best local people? Talk to those who teach them. If you don’t plant seeds, nothing will grow. I’ve met employers who have had great success acquiring good people just by being more present in the community. Buy a lunch. Teach a class. Serve on a workforce panel. Sponsor a contest. The ideas are endless. Over time, educators in the know will call you first when they spot top talent. (Note: In some cases there are publicly funded resources and incentives that will compensate employer for hiring and training for certain skills. These may be applicable to your needs. Local schools and agencies should be familiar with the requirements and processes.)

Train on critical thinking and decision skills from day-one. Just because they graduated from high school, college, or trade school, doesn’t mean they understand how work works. They have book smarts. You want work smarts. Some will arrive with it. Others, not so much. Assess their reasoning skills and build from there. Some will catch on faster than others. Some will possess more native confidence to try new things than others. Meet them where they are and stretch. One leader I know used to say, “Take 5’10” people and put them in 6’0” jobs. Remember, this is up to individual managers. All the training in the world won’t help if the supervision is inadequate. That’s up to organizational leadership.

A Newsboy’s Lament

When I was a kid, I had a job that no longer exists – a paper route. I had 150 customers. Every afternoon, I would get out of school and rush to a house two blocks away, where I would pick up 150 papers from the local distributor. I would fold them, stack them in a wagon with high slatted sides that my mother nicknamed the giraffe cart.

On Sunday mornings, I’d be up at the crack of dawn doing the same thing with papers that weighed four times as much because of the ads and supplements. On Wednesday evening, it was collections – 35 cents a week times 150 houses. I carried a ring with a card for each account. When the customer paid, I’d punch out that week on the card.

So why tell you this story? Because this was the experience, more than any other, that taught me problem solving and resilience. You see, I got pelted with snow, rain and hail accomplishing my appointed rounds. I sweated in the heat and froze in the cold. Newspapers arrived late. Newspapers got wet. Newspapers got torn. Newspapers blew away. Even the wheels came off my wagon at one point.

Then there was collections. Not all customers paid on time, of course. So I’d have to chase them down. I discovered at an early age what lengths some people would go to avoid paying their bill, even one totaling three dollars or less.

I had days where I came within a whisker of quitting. I didn’t, however, not the least because my parents wouldn’t let me. Besides, the money was pretty good and I had mastered the job, so there was a sense of pride involved.

Sadly, kids no longer have this opportunity and many similar. I say opportunity, because the skills and attributes this job compelled me to develop have served me well for the past 40 years. Educators talk of how learning is scaffolded as one experience is built upon another. In many ways, delivering newspapers became the foundation for the success I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve heard some parents, teachers and counselors tell students and graduates not to include menial jobs on their resumes. I have mixed feelings about that since these kinds of positions can teach perseverance, the overcoming of obstacles, dealing with disappointment and the blood, sweat and tears that the internship in the fancy office does not.

Progress, like new technology, is always a mixed blessing. I have to wonder if, in certain ways, we have progressed ourselves out of the development of work ethic that has served this nation so well.

How Presence of Mind Adds to the Bottom Line

My wife and I just spent a wonderful week in Hawaii, a chance to relax and reflect. Of course, my mind is never far from the topic of decision making. The first night we were there, Wendy discovered the clothes iron in our room wasn’t working. She called the hotel’s front desk to ask for a replacement. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. The housekeeper asked what she could do to help us. My wife told her the iron didn’t work and asked for a replacement. The housekeeper said, “Absolutely,” and disappeared to retrieve one. Ten minutes later, she was back with the replacement and life moved on.

But I got to thinking, wouldn’t it have been easier to bring a replacement iron on the first trip? Between the time my wife first called and the replacement iron arrived, about 30 minutes elapsed. That’s a half an hour of someone’s time, at probably $15 per hour. Wouldn’t it have saved time and money to bring the replacement iron on the first trip? While this may not seem like a big investment of time and money, this sort of thing probably happens 50 times a day in a busy hotel. If each incident consumes 30 minutes, that’s 25 hours at $15 per hour or $375. Multiply that by 365 days and housekeeping is spending $136,875 replacing irons, delivering towels and so on. I recognize these are essential services, but reducing this amount by half if the staff is on it’s toes saves the hotel $68,438 per year.

Now you may be thinking, “Who’s got time for focusing at such a granular level?” But what could the hotel do with $68, 438? Even if you’re not in hospitality, what could you do with this kind of money in your business? This is a presence-of-mind issue. By thinking one or two steps ahead, this housekeeper would have saved herself 20 minutes and a lot of walking. Of course, we have to assume the person at the front desk communicated the message properly. If, instead the housekeeper heard something like, “Hey, some lady in 302 needs something,” on the radio, that’s a whole different issue.

So what can you do to improve presence-of-mind in those you supervise? Here are three simple suggestions: 1) Collect examples of the little ways to save time and money in your workplace, such as the one I mentioned above. Rather than dismissing them as too small to worry about, calculate the impact over a year. You might be surprised at how much money is involved.

2) Explain these examples during your regular staff meetings. Rather than covering them all at one gathering, discuss a different one each time. In the process, you’ll be planting seeds and getting your people to think about similar situations. After all, you can’t dictate the way they solve problems, but you can encourage their creativity.

3) Reward those who make the effort to sharpen their presence of mind. This might be a gift certificate, a day off with pay, buying a tank of gas or something similar. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it does have to be meaningful. Your people need to see that thinking one or two steps ahead has a measureable impact on their efforts, the company’s time and the bottom line and that they will be recognized for doing so.

Are You a Student of Error?

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Do you learn best from success or failure? Upon reflection, most people will say failure. The question is what do you learn? Mistakes can cause all kinds of heartburn, fear, and frustration. But they are a fact of life. When you make a mistake, you are really faced with two choices: 1) You can relive the event, wallow in it and generally depress yourself or 2) You can take a step back and become a student of the error. Now, you might be thinking, “Why would I want to relieve something that went wrong?” Here’s the secret . . . Those who thrive in any environment, develop the habits of mind to move past the emotion and move on to the opportunities for learning.

At one point in a presentation last week, for instance, I got a little too glib. In the process, I came off as a smart-ass rather than an expert. I won’t share what I said. But the second I said it, I watched the audience begin to shut down. I quickly apologized for the goof, but the damage had been done. After the presentation, my first inclination was to beat myself up for going too far in trying to be funny. Then I took a step back and reflected. Ninety-nine percent of the presentation had gone very well. I just need to more careful in my attempts to be amusing.

Now, changing habits of mind requires practice and determination. Sadly, most of us have gotten very good at wallowing in what goes wrong. That’s human nature. The best thinkers don’t despair, however. Instead, they become students of error, determined to learn from what goes wrong. How? Here are three things I’ve learned from interviewing lots of them:

Take time to reflect – When you make a mistake or something goes wrong, learn to interrupt your pattern of worry and examine the incident in perspective. With few exceptions, the mistakes we make are never as bad as our emotions make them out to be. Mark Twain once said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

Discuss the error with others – Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goeth before the fall.” The best decision makers swallow their pride when things go wrong and ask for help. Call a couple of friends. Take a colleague to lunch. Explain the situation, the outcome, and ask what they would have done differently. Ask them to be frank. As the old saying goes, “In adversity, there is opportunity” . . . to learn. Chances are, by the way, they’ve made similar mistakes.

Learn from others’ mistakes – Many of those I’ve interviewed read lots of biographies. They glean insights from those who have come before. I’ve spent the past year interviewing small business owners. One of the questions I always ask is, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?” You can do this same sort of thing with the leaders and decision makers you admire. I think you’ll be surprised at how open most will be.

With each mistake we face a choice. On one hand, we can dwell on what went wrong and brace ourselves for the next mistake. One the other hand, we can compartmentalize our emotions and seek out the learning opportunity. One reinforces negative beliefs. The other will make us better decision makers.

The Secret Truth About Dishwashing

Man hands washing the dishes at kitchen

Dishwashing is a chore that most people try to avoid. There are even jokes about guys eating out of anything that will hold food just to skip this mindless task. But Bill Gates says he likes it. Yes, that Bill Gates. A couple of years ago, Gates mentioned that “I do the dishes every night — other people volunteer, but I like the way I do it,” during a Reddit Ask Me Anything.

So why should the rest of us pay attention to this? Simple – Bill Gates has learned the value of taking time to let his mind wander. In a world that is overloaded with distractions, data, and stimulations, our brains need time to sort, organize, prioritize and recharge. The external influences around us 24/7 rarely allow this to happen unless we consciously take the time to reflect.

Now this doesn’t mean you should be thinking about reflection. While it doesn’t hurt to have pen and paper at the ready, waiting consciously for the unconscious to work defeats the purpose. I have a colleague who puts questions in her “slow cooker.” These are the issues for which she cannot come up with an immediate answer. Over time, solutions to her dilemmas generally appear.

Some people maintain meditation is the best path for prompting insights. Others find that a walk in the woods does the trick. For me, it can be a long hot shower. For Bill, it’s washing the dishes. Should you expect blinding flashes of brilliance? No. Will you be staggered by some amazing insight? Probably not. But performing a mindless task relieves you from any self-imposed belief that you need to be doing something every waking minute.

Give yourself permission to escape from your treadmill of tasks, whether at work or at home. Turn off the distractions. Reject the guilt you might associate with this “lazy” endeavor. Embrace the value of doing the dishes, raking the leaves, mopping the floor or washing the car. Let your mind wander and reap the rewards.

Make Curiosity a Part of Your Decision Making

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I am inherently curious. Offer me a factory tour and I’m there. Give me a chance to visit a new city and I’m all over it. I like nothing better than the “ah-has” that come with learning something new. Over the years, this curiosity has served me well as I’ve interacted with a spectrum of clients in a wide variety of industries. While my focus is workforce transition issues, it helps that I can talk retail with retailers and distribution with distributors.

I mentioned this in a presentation last month and an electrical contractor sitting in the front row raised his hand. “I’m always looking up,” he said, trying to figure out how the place was wired. I can be in a restaurant, shopping mall, or bus station, I’m always analyzing the other guy’s work.” I asked how many other people in the audience did something similar and a good portion raised their hands.

This sense of wonder will serve you well regardless of your occupation and environment. I am continually surprised how little most people know about the organization for which they work. As I write this for instance, a driver for a linen and uniforms service is walking past me. I have an urge to ask him, “So how does your company make money? Can you explain the business model to me?” If he didn’t assume I was nuts, chances are he might say something like, “It’s not my job to know stuff like that.” How sad, for both him and the firm he works for. Knowledge, regardless of your role in the organization is the key to better decision making and success on several levels.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not one of these tunnel-visioned people who’s only invested in the next paycheck. But what about the people around you? Better profits come from better productivity. Better productivity comes from better decision making. Better decision making comes from better knowledge. Better knowledge comes from a continual sense of wonder and curiosity. So what to do? Here are three easy-to-implement suggestions:

Make curiosity a part of your ethos. Take a tour. Connect with a colleague in another part of the business with whom you might benefit from a mutual relationship. Ask those questions about the firm and industry that will open doors to new opportunities. Step out of your comfort zone and enjoy the rewards.

Set aside time to discuss the details. Dedicate the first or last five minutes of every meeting to sharing something interesting about the firm. Explain why it’s essential and how it impacts everyone. If your people are remote, send them a video or an interesting set of factoids. You might even assign this task to others to encourage their curiosity. Chance are, you’ll be surprised by what they find fascinating.

Demonstrate how curiosity turns into success. Tell your story. Ask your boss to tell his story. Ask a top manager to her story. Do this enough and your people will conclude that asking more questions and developing a sense of wonder is essential to better opportunities not just with your firm, but elsewhere long-term.

An enquiring mind is essential for short-term and long-term success. Put it to work today and get those around you to do the same.

If You’re Not Prepared to Wrong . . .

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Ten years ago, British educator Sir Ken Robinson presented his widely hailed TED talk entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity? The recording has now been viewed close to 40,000,000 times. Buried inside his many points is a simple statement – “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” To me, this encapsulates much of why some people make better decisions than others.

The willingness to be wrong is, in many ways, a key to success. Andy Griffith joked that he tried to make twice as many mistakes each year as the year before. To him, this was a measure of creativity and the willingness to take risks. In spite of claims to the contrary, trial and error is still the best strategy for mastering problem solving. But beyond the primal fear of risking and failing, we are now confronted by other insidious factors.

One of these factors is information overload. This ranges from the three gazillion links we have to navigate through with every online search to the underlying manipulation we face in trying to do something as simple as purchasing tires. Is it any wonder that 97% of people never look past the first page of a search engine result?

A second factor is our present climate of polarization. When was the last time you hesitated to express an opinion for fear of being demonized for your beliefs? We’re kidding ourselves if we believe that these practices don’t infect our thinking and actions in the workplace. A business colleague for whom I’ve had a lot of respect looked at me with shock and distain recently when I expressed a different opinion from hers about a particular social policy. “Oh Bob!” she said. “How could you possibly believe that?” as if I were some sort of Neanderthal. It was enough to make even thick-skinned me hesitant to express my opinion going forward. Sadly, it’s also compelled me to re-think my relationship with this highly-talented woman.

A final factor is the unreasonable expectations we place on our youth to behave perfectly all the time. There is abundant research demonstrating that adolescents and young adults sometimes make poor choices simply because their brains are evolving at twice the pace of an infant’s. Along with trying to process this intellectual and emotional roller coaster, they have to navigate hormonal imbalances and the transition to adulthood. When kids did stupid stuff in the past, parents, teachers and authorities may have yelled, but they also reasoned. They taught them lessons, but they didn’t expel them, charge them with felonies and accuse them of being deviants. How do these practices contribute to a young person’s maturity and the strengthening of society? This, by the way, is not to excuse the behavior patterns of the relatively few who act in a manner that reasonable people find inappropriate.

Policymakers and institutional leaders have invented safe spaces, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and other euphemisms in a futile attempt to protect everyone from anything that might cause discomfort. Faculty members and students, for instance, are forbidden from saying or doing anything that anyone on campus might find offensive at any time for any reason. Organizations failing to publicly endorse the current flavors of political correctness receive veiled threats from government officials and media scrutiny that paints them as out of touch with society or worse. Attempting to enforce most of these well-meaning but unenforceable rules and regulations is a fool’s errand, of course. Activists shout down those with opposing views without tolerating what this nation used to consider healthy debate. My favorites are the so-called straw man arguments because “everyone knows that your belief is abhorrent and my belief is common sense.”

But . . . we have to speak our minds. We have to express our opinions. We have to suggest out-of-the-box solutions. We have to argue our beliefs. We have to debate the controversies. This is hard to do when you have an underlying fear of being vilified for simply stating an opinion. We will be wrong sometimes. We will unknowingly offend sometimes. We will apologize sometimes. And we should also expect civility and respect from those with whom we disagree.

This is the only way a society remains healthy. We have to be creative. We have to create original ideas. We have to embrace visions that others might initially find uncomfortable. We also have to accept that we might fail. We have to express our beliefs with the understanding that others might disagree. We have to take risks in order to become better thinkers and decision makers. These are the only ways to contribute to the greater good.

In the face of the present civil chaos, we still need to think, to make decisions, to solve problems and overcome the resistance or even bullying of others. We need to do it at home, with friends, in the workplace and in the public square. And what to you get out of all this? Peace of mind, knowing that you tried to solve the problem, make the best decision, and contribute to the common good. In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt said it well, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Answer These Five Questions to Make the Best Decisions

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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:

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  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?