A bad decision, or no decision at all?
That, as they say, is the question.
Which scenario do you prefer: one where a decision taken turns out to be the wrong one; or the alternative, where any decision-making is kicked into the long grass and the situation remains vague and, well, undecided?
I often think about this, as it tends to be a position that my clients and past employers frequently find themselves in.
Maybe you’ve been there yourself: having to navigate several options at work or some other area of your life. You perceive the consequences and costs (emotional and financial) of making the wrong call to be so grave that it sends you into a state of inertia.
You freeze, because you’re terrified of moving forward, based on what you perceive to be the risks involved.
Or, maybe this isn’t just something you’ve experienced in the past; perhaps what I’ve described is exactly where you find yourself right now?
From a personal perspective, it can be crippling to find yourself unable to move on from a relationship, a job you’re no longer passionate about, or an experience that has had a significant impact.
You perceive the consequences and costs of making the wrong call to be so grave that it sends you into inertia
And from a corporate perspective, that crippling effect is amplified when it comes to businesses, because of the sheer number of people it can potentially affect.
I mentioned that this inertia, or what I refer to as a state of permanent procrastination, is something that I’ve been privy to on more than one occasion.
I described here how one of my Top 3 Project Nightmares involved a piece of work being put on hold for a period of six months while the senior management team requested all manner of due diligence, business cases, options papers and presentations. They deployed every type of navel-gazing technique you could think of!
The most intriguing thing was, they had no awareness of how this impacted team morale. It was soul-destroying to walk through the doors every day, knowing that what I was doing WASN’T contributing to a positive change in the business.
It was like running on a hamster wheel: lots of activity and energy expended, but going nowhere, fast.
I’ve always been passionate about making an impact and, seeing no way to achieve that within the organisation at that time, I ended up saying my goodbyes shortly afterwards.
And I wasn’t the only one to vote with my feet!
You’d be wrong to think such levels of procrastination only occur in the workplace, or perhaps in your personal life. It happens on the national and international fronts too.
Here in the United Kingdom, proposals to expand Heathrow Airport by building a third runway date back to 2009. Commercially, the business case made sense: Heathrow is said to be the second busiest airport for international travellers in the world, and the busiest in Europe. Having “won” the lottery of geographical location, it is the hub that connects travellers from the Americas, Africa, Australasia, the Far East and the rest of Europe.
With passenger numbers forecast to grow to 320 million by 2030 (from 211 million in 2010), approving the project appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
But apart from the commercials there were other factors to consider: local residents objected to an expansion project which would see an increase in the number of flights, and potentially noise and air pollution too.
So, not an easy decision to make!
And while the government would never admit it, there were also electoral concerns, as promises had been made to key stakeholders and party supporters about what would and would not be allowed to happen where expansion of the airport was concerned.
So, although the plans were first approved in 2009, this was reversed by the coalition government in 2010.
There were further consultations and indications that overall, it was in the national interest for the project to progress. Then it became clear that there was no political will to make a call before the 2015 election, and a decision was postponed again.
Later that year, the Airport Commission published its recommendation to build the new runway, but the government again deferred making a firm decision…
…it wasn’t until late 2016 that current Prime Minister Theresa May gave the green light for the expansion.
On the international stage, those old enough will remember the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.
In both cases, the international community “ummed” and “ahhed” its way through indecision, bureaucracy and long-winded United Nations resolutions, while innocent lives were lost.
When the much-needed intervention finally arrived in those countries, it was long overdue and tragically, too late to save millions.
In these circumstances, the consequences of procrastination and delay were fatal, and will continue to have an impact on both nations for generations to come.
But enough of the history lesson!
My original question was, which do you prefer: a bad decision, or none at all?
My recommendation is: Show leadership and make that call
In my opinion, is it far better to stand up and be counted.
My recommendation is: Show leadership and make that call.
Procrastination is really disguised fear: fear of poor outcomes, and subsequently, fear of being held accountable for those poor outcomes.
And fear has a paralysing effect.
When it comes to your business, there are ways to assess and quantify what’s really at stake, so you can make an informed decision on how best to move forward.
Consulting with your key stakeholders, identifying the risks involved, categorising them and assessing how they could impact your people, processes and systems are some ways of eating the elephant one bite at a time (in the proverbial sense only!)
I’ve heard fear described as False Evidence Appearing Real, and what these steps do is provide you with the facts you need to proceed.
I’ve seen too many management teams lose a good workforce, their businesses grinding to a halt because they refuse to do the background work, and take decisions which might be difficult.
And if it doesn’t work out? What if you make a decision, and it turns out to be the wrong one?
You can present your background work as proof, and ensure lessons are learned and recorded for posterity.
Unfortunately, the culture of blame in many organisations is one of the reasons why people shy away from taking decisions. When people aren’t allowed to take calculated risks – emphasis on calculated – they can’t learn or develop.
Better to make a decision you can learn lessons from, than to stall and wonder what might have been.
And, if you need to perform a Risk or Impact Assessment in your business, I would love to support you. Contact me here to discuss how I can help you make THAT crucial decision about a process, system, supplier or project.