When you’re hungry for an outcome, the choices are easier to make. Even in the presence of countless options. At the grocery store, your body takes you magically to those options it’s most craving and the choice virtually makes itself.
In business, the choices never seem to be so easy. But why?
Choices are hard. Throughout your life you’ve been forced to make choices. Sometimes those choices hurt other people, and sometimes those choices hurt you. Human’s have a magnificent way of attaching a deep sense of pain to making choices.
Look at these examples.
An older sibling must choose between staying home for college or going abroad. His parents are physically disabled, and his little sister has been his little sidekick. Going abroad means more hope and opportunity for the future and for his family. It also feels like he’s abandoning his entire world. He goes abroad. Will his family suffer?
A small child is taken to school on the first day of kindergarten. As her parents walk away, she has a choice. Am I happy to be on my own, learning new things and making new friends? Or am I sad that my parents have left me alone and I don’t know what I’m doing? If I’m happy, will my parents think I don’t love them? I’d rather be sad, it’s better this way.
When you have the luxury of time and the absence of urgency, choices aren’t that easy to make.
Choices Outrank Options
In business there is a personality type that avoids making choices by focusing on the options. We dwell on the alternatives, and spin our employees’ wheels analyzing the various outcomes. We postpone the decision until all angles and consequences have been assessed. We aim to leave no room for ambiguity. Options are enticing because they increase our comfort with the possible outcomes of a choice.
An over-abundance of options makes us feel safe. When time is tight, or urgency is high, this personality type gets frustrated with the potential for rash decisions.
What happens next is counter-intuitive for some of us.
The delayed decision leads to ambiguity. The decision-maker is indecisive. The team starts to lose faith. We are anything BUT safe!
What you need to know is this:
Options are invaluable… but choices outrank options.
Make Sure Options Don’t Stand In Your Way
Alternatives are necessary in decisions, if for no other reason than to provide a great back-up plan when Plan A falls through. As Peter Drucker said, "a decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw".
Choices though get you outcomes. And the sooner you make the decision, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.
Here’s how to make sure choices outrank options in your day-to-day decision making:
- Identify the options and write them all down. If you have more than 3 options, get rid of any options that you know instinctively are not appealing because they just don’t get at the right outcome.
- Identify 2 or 3 decision criteria. Typically, the choices should be based on how closely the option supports one of your business objectives, and how closely aligned it is to the culture your organization aspires to.
- For day-to-day decisions, don’t take longer than 2 hours to make a decision. In most cases, any decision is better than no decision.
- For larger decisions, don’t take longer than 1-2 months to make the decision. These include organization structure, big strategy decisions, and large investments.
Always keep in mind the wise words of the late Peter Drucker: A decision “is rarely a choice between right and wrong. It is at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong’.”