Facing tough business choices? Need some help? Read on.
Step by step to get through to good decisions
The world has been difficult over the last year – I think I am correct in saying this?
We know, at The Real Business Club, that for many businesses it has needed to be a time of decision making – some big ones, smaller choices and some painful choices. Here is one example:
A business owner needing to plan the best way to close their established business – because painfully, very painfully, the time to close is the top option they need to consider.
The 7 step approach breaks this sort of decision making down into bite-size pieces. Like eating a big meal we cannot and should not put it into our mouths all at once. For the business owner we were working with helping to have manageable steps really made the difference:
- Someone neutral to discuss with.
- A sense of direction even though it was difficult.
- Avoiding unforeseen consequences (financial and personal).
Not unnaturally so much was going round and round in their head day and often night too. Things like impact on themselves, impact on family, personal feelings about “failing”, being bothered by uncertainty – I am sure you can imagine other impacts and feelings as well.
The first 4 of the 7 steps are described in outline here. A second article will conclude with the 3 others.
The steps can be used by individual business owners or a team of people working together on decisions. Each step may overlap with others – but this approach does make the process “bite-size”! A logical and ordered process gives comfort. Crucially even before the first step making quality time to think is essential! This is the vital pre-step to grab hold of decision making.
At each step having a trusted outsider, like The Real Business Club or another business person you trust, can be so useful. Why not get someone else on your team for vital decision making?
Step 1 - Really look at the situation/s you face in detail. Take time to be thorough.P
Decision making can fail because key aspects of information are missed or ignored from the outset. Before you can begin to make a decision, you need to fully understand your situation.
Your decisions may be in the context of a particular problem (ie I have to close my shop because I cannot get new customers). You need to determine whether the stated problem is the real issue or just a symptom perhaps of something deeper. This is not psycho-babble but it is about you as a business owner clearly knowing what you want to achieve or not.
Where a situation has many “moving parts” try to tease these out either by a diagram or at least writing them down, not as a list but with some blank paper space round them. Remember our business owner had all thoughts spinning around and was not able to “see” them very well. Are there interrelated factors to consider? Changes made in one aspect (I will lose income) could become knock-on effects in life more widely (i.e. the mortgage and my partners’ income levels will be involved).
Take time to think about why things are happening or what has not worked out. This can include aspects that are in your control but also things that are not e.g. COVID and regulation changes. Take time to actually write down the situation.
Step 2 - Create a constructive environment for your decisions.
Can you give your decision the attention it needs? Spend some time preparing yourself before diving into the facts and figures or worse still leaping to an action that is not considered enough.
Remember that most decisions will affect other people too – jot down if or how they can be involved in decision making.
For a business owner sometimes the challenge is talking to loved ones. Taking time first to think through these points can be invaluable:
- Do I need to do this talking in “stages”?
- What do I need to say?
- How do I make and pick the right time to talk?
- How do I manage my own feelings during the conversations? Thinking this through can be time very well spent.
This is true especially if there are going to be tricky points. It can be useful to make sure that it is clear you, with them, are aiming for the best decisions, without blame and for a way forward.
Step 3 - Generate good alternatives - but don’t judge whether they will work yet!
The wider the options you explore, the better your final decision is likely to be. Producing some different options may seem to make decision making more complicated at first. The time spent coming up with alternatives pushes better thinking. Looking at the problem from different angles leads to different options. For a business owner we worked with, they were able to see new possibilities that were much better than those they started with.
If your barriers are being stuck, confused, frustrated and “cannot see the wood for the trees” call Isabel or another business coach you may know who can unlock good thinking and get past these barriers.
Mindmapping suits some people – seeing a decision visually. Simply start by putting a very short description of the decision you have to make in the middle of a piece of paper. From this choose some starting words and open questions and putting some headings on a big piece of paper branching out from your starting description. Then see what your mind says is a next step (in a short sentence) next to the words and grow the branches. This can work wonders for releasing worry and options. If you have not done this before – what can you lose by giving it a go? There are lots of other simple practical tools – if you need some ideas on this then call Isabel.
Step 4 - Explore your options – genuinely look for good and less helpful points in each option.
Something like mind mapping may get you to some clearer options that need examining. Maybe a next good practical starting point for each option is to do a pro’s and con’s style list on the main choices you may now see. If you took X action – well what would be the plus points and what would be the downsides. List them out and see what this tells you about a way ahead.
Don’t miss out on identifying key risks in the options you think are starting to look “best”. It is good to balance optimism that “everything will be fine” and uncertainty that “if X happened that would be terrible”. This can help you decide, plan and communicate with others. Almost every decision involves some degree of risk. You'll need a structured approach for assessing threats and evaluating the probability of adverse events occurring – and what they might cost to manage. You'll also want to examine the ethical impact of each option, and how that might sit with your personal and organizational values.
Another simple visual tool is a timeline diagram. All our decisions have implications in real-time. By producing for yourself, even a badly drawn timeline of short, medium and longer-term consequences of the options can help you see a way ahead and the stepping stones.
After all the effort and hard work you've invested in evaluating and selecting alternatives, it can be tempting to forge ahead at this stage. But now, more than ever is the time to "sense check" your decision. After all, hindsight is great for identifying why things have gone wrong, but it's far better to prevent mistakes from happening in the first place!
If by this stage you are thinking “I need to talk this through” identify a trusted, knowledgeable and friendly person that can help you be objective and move to the next three steps.
Have you got key business decisions you need to make?
Working out your specific decisions?
Would some other eyes looking at the decision be useful to you?
If you know having someone “from outside” who has long term business experience would make a difference to your decisions then why not contact Isabel on 01189 680813 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Isabel leads our team delivering skilled and common sense business coaching.
Do your decisions have a money aspect and choices?
If your decisions involve financial decisions (that could mean uncertainty or stress for you) then getting Dawn Edwards’ expertise would be very smart.
Contact Dawn on 07896 665104 or email email@example.com
Especially if you need to think through tax and longer-term planning implications of your decisions.
Dawn leads our team delivering common-sense clever finance services to businesses.
This blog comes from The Real Business Club, founded by Dawn Edwards, finance and tax expert and Isabel King, business growth expert and business coach. It is an independent provider of training and advice and support. The opinions expressed in this blog are personal.
We often take inspiration for these blogs from the many business owners and businesses that we train, coach and work with.
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