How to be more effective by making fewer decisions

Do you find that you are continually making business decisions, yet struggle to make significant progress on key issues? The job of managers is, in essence, to make decisions and manage the related actions that improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisation. However, you can find yourself trying to sort out too many issues at any one time, preventing you from really achieving your objectives.

In the animal kingdom, the creatures at the top of the food chain hunt their food sporadically not continually. Those lower down the chain, however, are always grazing and eating. Similarly, highly effective managers are able to free up their time for other added-value activities – which, unlike the big cats, may involve more than sleeping and mating! – whereas the less effective are forever head-down in the latest ‘urgent’ issue.

There are three practical ways that you, as a manager, can release time by focusing your efforts on fewer, more important decisions.

  1. Focus your problem-solving on cause, not effect. When you have a leaking roof you will initially make the decision to put a bucket underneath the hole to catch the drops of water and adapt to the new situation. However, if you are spending all your time on adaptive decisions – the equivalent of replacing the bucket – you will be making decisions continually. On the other hand, if you decide to fix the roof, you only have to make one decision. How many of your problem-solving decisions are adaptive rather than corrective?
  2. ‘Do nothing’ is often a good decision. When faced with an issue or potential decision there is an immediate reflex response to do something about it. However, doing nothing is often the best course of ‘action’ for many issues you face for two reasons. First, many issues resolve themselves. For example, when you go on holiday it is always interesting to see how many issues and ‘emergencies’ took place while you were away, only to sort themselves out without you having to take any action. Secondly, some issues just aren’t important enough to justify the action required to remedy the situation. How many of your decisions do not have a material impact on the performance of your organisation?
  3. Ask yourself if you’re the right person to make the decision. US Army generals set simple plain-talk goals for military operations called Commander’s Intent rather than detailed battle plans, knowing that any plan tends to become ineffective on contact with the enemy. Once the captains understand the end-goal it is then up to them to improvise as necessary to achieve it, making key decisions as required. Similarly, your team members are often in a better place to make decisions than yourself (no matter what you’re ego may tell you). If you find that too many decisions are coming up the hierarchy to you for sign-off you may find that you haven’t defined your intent sufficiently clearly and they are uncertain as to what is expected of them.

If instead, you find that your team members are unable to agree the best way forward themselves, you may wish to use the technique favoured by the late Sir John Harvey Jones when he was leading the chemicals giant ICI. Famously, he told his executive team that if they couldn’t agree on the best solution he would simply toss a coin to ensure that a decision – any decision! – was made. How many times have you made decisions that would have been better made by someone else?

The bottom line

Roger Enrico, the former Chairman of Pepsico once said, “Beware of the tyranny of making small changes to small things. Rather make big changes to big things.” By focusing your efforts on the decisions where you can make big changes you will significantly increase your personal and organisational effectiveness.


To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44-(0)1636-526111.