How To Get Very Difficult Decisions Right

We all are faced with making decisions that we would rather not have to do – these are the kinds of judgements that will have profound implications and wide-ranging consequences for many different groups of people and individuals.

Such big challenges have two things in common: there are large degrees of uncertainty about the outcomes we might get and that inevitably the choices made will deliver harm or cause considerable difficulty for some people in a way that we would really not want to see.

The effect of both of these two issues is that it is human nature to delay in actually making that decision, we look undecided and uncertain and we will automatically do our best to put off making what we know will be a hard task until often the very last minute.

We need to recognise and deal with Uncertainty

  • We might think that problems creep up on us but the reality is that we put off dealing with problems until they grow into really big problems.
  • When the problem emerges our natural reaction is to give the issue our total and undivided attention because it is the most important issue and we have to fully deal with it right here right now. However looking only at the obvious short-term threat often means you miss the broader context and longer-term ramifications.
  • Over-simplification.Ignoring the wider aspects of the problem will always cloud your judgement.
  • Putting the problem to one side or hiding it from everyone else, including more senior managers, never works. Containing a problem just makes things worse. Far worse.

So, what is the way forward?

  1. Assess the situation.Evaluate carefully – your first thought should always be is there a need do actually do anything? What are the risks associated with doing nothing? If you decide to act carefully balance out the pluses and minuses, costs and benefits, of your options, writing them down clearly and carefully so that you can make an objective judgement. This will be valuable time spent as you can come back to the weightings later and check to see if your original view was right.
  2. Be challenging. Challenge any either/or assumptions that you have made or that are commonly accepted as the norm. In difficult times convention needs to go out of the window!
  3. Get the opinions of colleagues. The more trusted and reliable people you consult the wider the range of possible solutions emerge and the more weight will be added to particular options that you have identified. Being alone in sorting out difficult problems or making hard decisions is very difficult; the more inputs you have the better the end decision will be.
  4. Try a low-risk test of your idea and use the findings to see if this can be scaled-up or further refined. If this is not possible at least you have gained progress in rejecting one idea which will give you time to focus on more likely options.

Good Luck!

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