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When NOT Making a Decision IS a Decision

When NOT Making a Decision IS a Decision

Are you making decisions and not knowing it?

When NOT Making a Decision IS a Decision

John Holobinko, Managing Director, Business Reimagined, LLC

Leading a business in a competitive, changing market can be a challenge.  The Covid crisis an example of something that changed customer behaviors and significantly affected a number of markets.  But it is just one example.  Less dramatic changes happen all the time. And competition doesn’t stay still.

Periodically a business will be faced with making a key decision:  Do I stay the course, or do I make a change?  Do I invest in a new opportunity or not?  A smart business leader will try to get the most data possible before making a decision.  A leader will reach out to experienced employees, to customers, to business associates, do research online and consult other sources. After some time, all this data comes together.  It is then up to the business leader to evaluate the information to obtain the greatest insight into the opportunity or issue.

When faced with making a critical decision there is often discomfort with uncertainty. In many cases, perhaps in most cases, the leader could use more information before making a decision. The leader may believe that making a decision without having all the information could result in a costly mistake that could hurt the business.

What constitutes the information you need?  How do you know when you have all the information you need in order to eliminate uncertainty?  The answer is never.  One of the greatest illusions that a leader can have is that if they just wait long enough, the additional information that they gather can significantly reduce the risk of making the wrong decision.  Why isn’t this true?

The answer lies in the fact that business and market conditions are constantly changing. It is said there are only two types of businesses:  those that are declining and those that are growing.  This expression is meant to convey that markets are not fixed and opportunities come and go. The idea that a market is stable and not changing is an illusion.  Wait for additional information and the probability is that some of the data you original got is no longer valid.  Instead of gaining additional information, you are most likely rotating information and not gaining significant additional insight.  Worse, by delaying your decision, you likely have paid a price, which is opportunity cost. 

Which brings us back to the title of this blog.  If you are having trouble making a decision and you put it off, that act of putting it off itself is a decision you have made.  You haven’t simply delayed making a decision.  You have made a decision, which has its own risk, just as real as making a decision has risk.  If you believe that not making a decision has no risk, you are living in an illusion. 

Instead, as a leader consider that every action you take is a decision that carries its own risk.  What the most successful leaders understand is that not every decision that the leader makes will result in success.  So what they do is try to quantify that risk on the front end, make the decision, then track the results.  If the decision doesn’t go as planned, a great leader will adjust in order to minimize the downside, and then quickly move on while learning from the experience to make better future decisions.

Now consider your own leadership style.  How often are are you making a decision simply by deciding not to make a decision?  If the answer is quite often, perhaps it is time to do some self-reflection and rethink how you quantify business risk.

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