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The Root Cause of Mediocre Decisions
When deciding between a set of options, are you sure the best option is in that set?
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Let’s say you need to hire for a critical role on your team. You’ve narrowed the pool down to three finalists, and are ready to make a decision. How do you decide who to hire? How do you make the best decision?
It turns out that the best decision will have little to do with who you choose. What matters most is whether the best candidate is even in your group of finalists! Or, more fundamentally, was the best candidate ever in your recruiting process to begin with?
The single biggest factor in your decision making is whether you do the work to give yourself the best options possible. This is true in hiring, making investments, choosing product strategy, and everything else in business. The quality of every decision you make is pre-determined by the quality of options you create.
As a result, the best way to make better decisions is to improve the quality of the options you have to choose from. If you were buying a car and the only options you had were broken down rust-buckets, would your decision making process matter? No, what would matter is finding better cars to choose between.
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Many leaders will rush to the decision and not spend the time to develop better options. Developing options is hard work and making decisions is empowering, so it seems tempting to skip to the good part. It’s a trap! You need to focus on the options before allowing yourself to even consider making a decision.
How do you ensure you have the best options in front of you?
Set your criteria ahead of time. Before you even start a decision process, agree ahead of time what a great option will look like. For example, before interviewing you should create a profile of your ideal candidate. If you’re investing, define your ideal investment. These criteria will help you avoid settling, since any option needs to meet the criteria before being considered. These criteria are your standards and you should never lower them. As long as you make sure you have more than one choice that meets your criteria, you have a good decision to make.
Invest in your process. Most leaders focus on the decision, but leave the process up to others. You should own the process to ensure there is no implicit bias filtering out great options! For example, if your team is bad at interviewing then the best candidates might drop out long before making a decision. Owning the process means training everyone on the interview team and adopting best practices for interviewing. The higher quality your process, the higher quality your options will be.
Be ready to make no decision. If you have to choose between only bad options, you can choose not to make a decision and restart the process. It’s okay to admit you made mistakes, but it’s not okay to make a decision solely because of how much time you’ve already invested in the process. This kind of momentum-driven decision making leads you to settle for bad options and, even worse, sets a bad precedent for the future. If you’re recruiting and all of your finalists are weak, start over again.
Roughly 90% of the time involved in making great decisions is doing all of these things to ensure you have the best options available. All of the frameworks you can read about, including here, can then help ensure you choose the best option. However, given a set of great options even a bad choice can be a good decision! Improving your options is insurance against making mistakes.
It’s easy to sit back and decide between the options presented to you, and in some cases it’s the right approach! If you’re sitting at a restaurant, you should choose the dish that is most appealing as the cost of leaving and finding another restaurant is very high (and rude). However, you don’t need frameworks for those types of decisions as they are rarely very important.
For important decisions, you need to do the work ahead of time.
For more on making great Decisions, see:
Beware One-Way Doors and other decision traps.
Evaluating options using Types of Risk
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