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Data before Decisions: Common Quagmires People Get Entrapped In

31Oct 2006

Recently, I have been consulting with a variety of executives, family members, and family business owners – all in different circumstances. But I have been seeing a common theme among many of them – struggles in making difficult decisions.

In many of these situations, the individuals (who need to make the decisions) are expending a lot of time and energy worrying, fretting, and going over potential options. However, a key aspect in all of the situations is the fact that all of the individuals actually need additional information before they can really make their decision.

I “preach” repeatedly to my clients – whether they are high school students deciding on where to go to college or business owners making multimillion dollar estate planning decisions – you need data before you make decisions. It is really not a difficult concept to understand, and it is not rocket science (most of what I do in family coaching isn’t!) However, I repeatedly see individuals get “stuck” in the decision-making process, especially when they don’t have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

The “sticking point” often is this – they need to make an important decision, they don’t have all the pertinent information need, and they are not taking steps to get the information they need. I have pondered about this pattern I am seeing and have generated some hypotheses about what seems to be creating the logjam:

  1. The fear of finding out information you really don’t want to know. Sometimes the data that will be obtained is potentially problematic – it will create additional challenges in the situation or it may be “bad news”.
  2. Preferring not to have the information needed so you don’t have to make the decision (and implement it). Some individuals delay gathering all of the data, so they aren’t forced to make a difficult decision. Others avoid getting the information because making the decision will create a lot of work for them to do.
  3. Not taking the time to think through the situation and determine what additional information is needed and where it can be obtained. Sometimes the situation is complex and there are multiple factors intertwined. Untangling the variables and determining the core issues takes time and often requires using a “sounding board” (my role, frequently) to “think through” the problem. Then, when the most critical issues are identified, a plan can be developed to gather the information lacking (for example, legal implications of a decision, or technical information from an expert).

So, if you find yourself “stuck” in making an important decision, go through these common sense steps:

  • Identify the key issues that need to be considered in the decision.
  • Determine whether or not you have all the needed (or preferred) information regarding these key areas.
  • When you need additional data, identify potential sources for the information and assign responsibility to someone to obtain it.
  • Set a target date for getting the information and choose an individual who will help you keep accountable in keeping to the time frame.
  • Review the new data obtained and develop a plan for “next steps” (getting more or different information, or making the decision).

Then you will be able to “brutally confront reality” as Jim Collins and others have challenged us to do.

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