3 factors that paralyze decision-making

We are often stuck while making tough decisions.  You’ve looked at options and supporting data.  You’ve talked to people for guidance.  Yet, you can’t seem to pull the trigger and take that final step of deciding. 

There are upsides to taking time to make decisions.  You have access to more information.  You have time to do more analysis. You have time to talk to more people for their views.  Yet, delayed decisions can cause problems and cost you money.  It can bring your business to a grinding halt.  And demotivate employees waiting for your decision.  Worst of all, the pending decision resides in the back of your head till you decide.  It takes up mind space and affects your sleep.

So, when do you know that you’ve spent enough time sitting on a decision?  As soon as you’ve sourced enough information and performed enough analysis.  There’s a catch there.  Part of the difficulty in making a tough decision, is knowing when there’s enough information. 

There aren’t any objective parameters available to decide when it’s time to decide.  Yet, there are some subjective indicators that you’re taking too long in your decision making.  And that you need to decide now. 

And the indicators are

#1: The hunt for perfection

We’re all committed to quality and accuracy.  Especially for decisions which have long term implications, the temptation to go that extra step to get perfect information is great.  Trouble is that it’ll never be perfect.  And by waiting for perfection, we are often too late in making a good decision.

Making decisions with incomplete information is the job of a leader.  Often, you’ll only know if the decision was right long after it was made.  So, if you find yourself waiting for those additional pieces of information which will make your analysis ‘perfect’, you know you are stretching your decision making.

#2: The fear of looking stupid

Ask yourself if the reason you’re not making the decision is a fear of looking stupid.  We often postpone decisions which can have an impact on our personal brand.  For instance, you could be afraid that your decision to buy new equipment might not work out.  And people might point fingers at you for your faulty decision.

And keep your ego out of it. There’s little place for our ego while making business decisions.  Once ego comes in, it’s easy to get paralysed into inaction.  It’s important to keep asking yourself during the decision-making process, if the decision is getting postponed due to a potential hit to your image. 

#3: The anxiety of hurting people

All of us want to be seen as fair.  And look at the consequences of our decisions on various stakeholders.  For instance, you might worry that an employee will get hurt if you decide to significantly differentiate between high and low performers.

It’s good to think of the consequences of our decisions.  Yet, we often postpone the pain by being worried of every consequence.  Most decisions have a negative consequence on some stakeholders.  So, look at the most significant immediate term consequences of your decision.  And compare to the long-term impact on stakeholders.  Often, worry about short-term negative consequences prevent thinking on long-term positive consequences. 

Closing thoughts

Defence personnel are taught to make decisions with incomplete information. A war does not allow you the luxury of time and information to make decisions. Often, your decision determines whether a soldier under you lives or dies. You might be lucky to have 50-60% of the information you need to decide.

Thankfully, it’s not that stark for a business leader.  Yet, making tough decisions is equally important for effective leaders.  It’s the burden of responsibility that a leader needs to shoulder.  So, decide to decide quicker. 

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