It was late now, past 7PM, and John still sat at his desk, head in hands. He was part owner and led the sales team at his company. He had been a long-time proponent of buying another firm for expansion. The opportunity had now presented itself, and his partners who were nearing retirement and a bit risk averse, had left the final decision up to him, telling him that he had to make it work. He had done some due diligence and believed it would work, but the burden of the decision weighed heavily on him.
So many things swirled in his mind as he fought to gain clarity. He struggled over the high price. What was the competitor’s business worth? He was afraid of spending cash even though his partners and the banker had given him the thumbs up. He even struggled over having more business. Would the sales team step up? Could production take on the extra volume? He wanted to succeed, and taking over another business was a sign of success, right? If things worked out, this could almost double their size.
It seemed that lately, he had been staying late at the office and coming in early a little too often. He knew he needed to find a little more time to spend at home and he would, as soon as he got over this next business milestone. The company was doing well, and a little more pushing would get them to the next level. As he sat struggling, he remembered, he and his wife Julie had a few words last night. He knew she and the kids needed him to be present more often. Hopefully he would patch things up this weekend once he made some final decisions about this purchase. Now, he just had to push through and decide whether to pull the trigger…
We have all had to make hard decisions, maybe not just like John’s but with as much impact or more. Some decisions are harder than others. Some we agonize over, and some we should agonize over and don’t. The mantra of the day is “Fail Faster”. The idea is that failure is often where we learn what we need to know to succeed the next time. While “Fail Faster” has its merits, there still must be smart decision making criteria to help us choose what is worth risking failure!
Here are 7 questions that I have found to help bring clarity in making decisions:
1. The Sanity Check Question. Am I in the right frame of mind to make a decision? We have all done this and see others do it. We are frazzled, tired, frustrated, or maybe even depressed, and we still think we are qualified to decide. In our story, John is making his decision after a long hard day and an argument with his wife. At this point, it would be wise for him to recognize that he is most likely not even able to make a decision about what to have for dinner, let alone something that may have long term impact.
2. The Focus Question. Is the choice I am considering fear based or purpose based? Being motivated by fear always leads to bad decisions. John is afraid of spending his money even though two advisors have told them it is not an issue. We may choose not to have that hard conversation with someone on our team because we are afraid they might quit. Whenever we hear ourselves saying “I’m afraid that…”, we should take a breath and ask ourselves what the purposeful thing to do is. Doesn’t that conversation with our team member help both them and the company? Isn’t it necessary, and isn’t the fear most of the time unfounded? Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you know is right.
3. The Motive Check Question. What is my motivation in choosing to do this? We are great rationalizers, and we can so easily fool ourselves. To dig a little deeper, ask these three questions:
What is the right thing to do? We often know the answer. We just need to ask the question.
Am I choosing this to gratify myself and elevate myself? So often we are blind to our own ego and its role in deciding.
Have I considered how this decision will impact others? In our story, it seems that John is not fully considering how the purchase might impact his team or his family.
4. The Impact Question. What is the worse that is likely to happen? This question makes sure that we don’t waste time in angst over a decision that has very low impact. What happens if I do it? What happens if I don’t? Sometimes the answer is huge, like if this fails it could bankrupt me. However, more often neither answer is very impactful, and this frees us up to pull the trigger on one direction or the other and move on.
5. The Objection Question. What is holding me back? We often ask this question in the sales process to help clarify what concerns a potential customer might have. John seems to be holding back for a number for reasons, all of which might be induced by his uncertain frame of mind after a long day and argument with his wife.
6. The Counselor Question. Who have I asked for their perspective? An old biblical Proverb says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Running a decision past someone you respect for their wisdom, past your spouse, and certainly by God is a necessity. So often someone on the outside can see things more clearly and either confirm or point out the craziness of our ideas.
7. The Action Question. Will this decision continue the status quo or bring about action? So often in business and in life, we are stuck. We keep doing the same thing with the exact same results and then are frustrated by where we end up. Someone once told me that change for the sake of change is sometimes good, and I now see the wisdom of this. Once you’ve considered everything else, consider the side of the decision that brings about good healthy change.
Let’s make good decisions on what is worthy of risking failure. And, let’s make sure we value what is important in making those decisions. In the long term, there is no temple of success that will matter more than the people we impact, our families, and our faith.