Making Difficult Decisions at Work

By Joe Issid

Part of being a manager is having to make a very large number of decisions on a daily basis. And one can only hope that, at the end of the day, the good decisions comfortably outweigh the bad. For experienced managers, the decision-making process can be fairly intuitive and decisions can often be made quite effortlessly. However, every manager has been thrust into the position of having to make a difficult decision and we all remember exactly how we responded when that time came.  Many managers (myself included) have lost sleep over such events, agonizing over what path to choose. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any decision you make will pan out. But you can equip yourself with some techniques that can help you make the best possible decision when the need arises.

Gather information

I can be a relatively impatient person and have a natural reflex to try and solve problems as quickly as possible. However, many situations are simply too complex or ambiguous to be treated with such haste. As such, I have learned over the years to approach all problems (big or small) in a more methodical and measured way. To wit, spend as much time as you need gathering information and soliciting input from relevant parties. Take the time to fully understand the root of the issue you are trying to fix and then try and flesh out as many solutions as possible. The simple exercise of finding more than one solution can prove invaluable. While no two problems are alike, the path to resolution can often be duplicated.

Is this good for the company?

Personally, I ask myself this question to ensure that my personal biases are not impacting my decision-making abilities. Ultimately, I am being paid to make business decisions on behalf of my employer so it is incumbent upon me to always act in said employers' best interest. In some cases, however, it is difficult to separate my own personal feelings from a business situation. For example, I am a vocal advocate of working from home and have no objections if my staff choose to work remotely. However, I have worked for companies that do not permit such a practice and, in such circumstances, I have been compelled to enforce this policy despite my personal feelings to the contrary. Yes, this may sound like a thought-controlling and mindless corporate mantra, but it has served me extremely well when confronted with difficult decisions over my career.

Think long term

Having spent many years working in the start-up sphere, I have been part of many companies that have had a hard time thinking long-term. With limited resources, small companies are often more concerned with month-to-month operations than taking a longer view. As a manager, you should do your best to avoid this type of thinking – despite the type of organisation within which you work. All big decisions should be made with longer term implications in mind. For instance, anytime you are looking to hire new resources, approach the process with the mindset of entering into a long-term relationship rather than simply trying to fix a short-term issue.

There are no perfect solutions

Wouldn't it be great if every problem had a single, perfect solution? Many managers (especially young mangers) feel tremendous pressure to resolve all problems that are presented to them in very defined and measurable ways. Unfortunately, the real world doesn't resolve itself quite so neatly. In many cases, there is no "right" answer to a problem so you should approach the situation with this in mind. Rather than trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, you should consider other "imperfect" solutions to your problem. In fact, there may be no solution at all and the only remedy is to wait for a better time to address the issue.

Don't be stubborn

Many people will tell you that being a good leader entails making decisions and sticking with them. And, in certain cases, I would have to agree. However, I have also learned that being flexible can have tremendous merits in the workplace. Yes, your ego may take a hit if you are seen backpedaling on a previous decision but no employer will fault you for doing so if you are looking to improve things. Stubbornly sticking to a bad decision will almost always come back to haunt you so toss your ego aside and make the right call.