Skip to main content

Work can be seen as a series of decisions or activities leading up to a decision. Here are six tips to be more effective:

Focus on what could go right: Too often we analyze the possibilities to death – or at least, to paralysis – as the nitpicking and negatives intensify. All decisions involve risk. To counter fears, think of what can go right, Dean Graziosi writes in Quora.

Clarify the problem: Sounds obvious, but often we go wrong here and so most decision-making experts stress the importance of a crystal-clear definition of the problem you are addressing. Charles Conn, a Canadian who developed the ideas for the new book Bulletproof Problem Solving while working in the McKinsey office in Toronto in the early 1990s, points with co-author Robert McLean to the adage “a well-defined problem is a problem half-solved.” They add: “Problem definition is more than just your problem statement; you need to know the boundaries of the problem, the time frame for solution, the accuracy required, and any other forces affecting the decision.”

View the problem from multiple perspectives: Most problems are experienced by more than one person or function. “There is usually an assumption that when everyone agrees there is a problem, we also experience it in the same way,” consultant Jamie Flinchbaugh writes in Industry Week. “So one party will proceed under the assumption that everyone sees the problem as they do, but that is a false assumption.” He says all perspectives are valid but also incomplete and so you need to bring people together to solve it.

Beware of collective decision-making: At the same time, be sensitive to consultant Simon Terry’s warning that we lean too heavily on meetings and collective decision-making. If your organizational design is right, somebody should be responsible for every decision being made. “That doesn’t mean that they have to make it alone but they are responsible for the process reaching an outcome. Make sure that decisions are not constrained by group decision-making processes and the ambiguity that they create. Whatever you do, do not try to make collective decisions by e-mail,” he writes on his blog.

Make decisions at the right level: A McKinsey & Company survey found that when respondents say decisions are made at the right level – which, in many cases, means delegating decisions down to lower levels of the organization – they are 6.8 times more likely to be part of what is considered a winning company. The four consultants who oversaw the survey report on the McKinsey website that this result is closely related to another finding: Both high-quality decisions and quick ones are much more common at organizations with fewer reporting layers.

Focus relentlessly on strategic intent: The survey also found that only 41 per cent of respondents say their organization’s decisions align with the corporate strategy. Again, those who do this are far more likely to be successful companies.

Push back: The more you admire someone, the more critically you should examine their opinions, consultant Pawel Motyl writes in Labyrinth: The Art of Decision-Making. The more exciting somebody’s vision seems, the more closely you should test its foundations in reality. As well, the more everyone around insists something is impossible, the more you should check it yourself – several times.

Think about those ideas as you grapple with decisions in the coming weeks.


  • Consultant David Dye shares this advice, for a mayor he served alongside as a city councillor during debate that threatened to derail a widely desired project: “We can find 1,000 reasons why this won’t work. That’s not the question. The question is, ‘How can we make it work.'”
  • More data is always available when making a decision, at a cost. But you’re probably not using all the data you have, says entrepreneur Seth Godin. What you really are seeking when calling for more data is certainty, and you can’t get it – more data is just a stall. “Forward motion is the set way to make things better,” he adds.
  • Tom Peters says meetings are what bosses do. So stop complaining. Your job is to make the meetings “paragons of excellence,” he says in his weekly quote.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe