4 simple steps to tackle tough decisions

By Jeff Sheets

Every business owner or leader has been faced with tough decisions or choices. You don’t want to make these choices without a plan, because bad choices can lead to catastrophic consequences for organizations. These game-changing choices could include terminating employees, getting rid of product lines, moving to a new location, or just making small changes that make you uncomfortable. You need to be diligent in finding a way to take a systematic approach to the process rather than a subjective one. No matter what system you set up, ultimately the tough choice falls on the leader and that person’s “gut” feeling about making the final decision. Following is my 4-step plan to remove any stress from your “gut” and help you make these types of decisions.

#1 Identify the problem

Until you really know what the problem is, how can you fix it? I talk to enough business owners to know that sometimes they have a feeling that something is wrong, but just don’t know exactly what it is. This might occur in staff situations where there are a lot of “fires” or customer service issues, and from more than just one person. It may also come in the form of less people visiting your dealership than the previous year. There are a lot of examples of problems that might be more complicated, and you need to make sure that you are looking at the broader issue rather than focusing on just one person or a quick fix. It may be an incredibly large and complicated issue. Be thorough in making sure that you identify it.

#2 Collect information

Once you identify the problem, you need to collect as much independent information as possible to make sure that you know the scope of the problem, so you can find options that will help you in making your final choice. I always recommend going to trusted sources when possible for advice. Many owners call or email me as a resource to seek help in these situations. My goal is to give them tools or resources to help them, but not to make the final decision for them. You want options at this stage and looking to other owners who have gone through similar situations can help you avoid big potholes, as well as provide you with helpful solutions. At this point, you may also need to do some collection of data. For example, you might need to have your accountant pull together your past five years of sales records. Or, you might need to see what other local businesses are experiencing. The most important part is not to make a knee-jerk decision based on anecdotal data. However, you do need to set a deadline on this part of the process. Otherwise, you will continue to collect more and more data and never make a decision. Your goal should be to have at least two or three options at the end of this step, so that there is an opportunity for a real choice to be made.

#3 Investigate options

Hopefully by now, you have two to three options after completing your data collection. You need to look at each option and its potential impact on your business, both positively and negatively. If one option is to fire an employee, then you need to think through how that person’s responsibilities will be divvied up until a replacement is hired, as well as how that loss will impact the employees who are left to carry on. Many other considerations would need to be reviewed in this case, and you need to make sure that you’re prepared for the potential fallout before the decision is implemented. At this point, it would also be a good time to review your ethical principles or your business vision and mission to make sure you are not violating any standards that you would regret later. Because of your principles, you may decide that letting the employee go is not an option, but that you are going to implement other cost-cutting measures to make sure that your expenses are in line. Regardless of the options, make sure that you spend a fair amount of time thinking through them, and once again, if there is any shadow of a doubt or a need for more information, do not hesitate to go to others for some advice. You do not want to make tough decisions in a vacuum with no outside information. You want to make tough decisions when you are extremely confident that you have done your due diligence in looking at all the options. Once again, you need to make sure though that you have established a firm date on when the final decision needs to be made.

#4 Implement the decision

Once the decision has been made, it is time for implementation. There may be a specific time when the decision needs to be communicated based on multiple factors. I would recommend not waiting too long between decision and implementation. I can definitely see a 24-hour wait or waiting until a time when a contract expires, etc. However, do not delay too long because difficult choices are hard, and the longer you wait, the harder they will be to implement. If your business is in jeopardy for some reason and the decision desperately needs to be implemented, do not delay at all. As an example, I have read and researched several publications about the decision-making process that General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Allied Forces took for the D-Day invasion in WWII. Eisenhower and his staff followed similar steps, and they knew that the invasion stood an equal chance of being a failure as it did a success. In fact, Eisenhower prepared for both outcomes by writing a congratulatory letter and a letter of resignation. He faced a tough decision, and it had to be made and implemented. As you know, it turned out to be the right decision. You can’t always know what will transpire in the future, but you need to act on your best judgment and accept the consequences.

You are the leader of your business, and with that position, sometimes you need to make tough choices. Here are a couple of my favorite leadership quotes: One is from former President Harry S. Truman, who famously coined, “The buck stops here!” and the other is from Alan Autry, actor, NFL player and former mayor of Fresno, Calif., who said, “Leadership demands we make tough choices.” If you try to avoid making tough decisions, then ultimately your business will suffer. I could poll all of the owners of OPE businesses, and I bet that 100 percent would say they’ve had to make a tough choice at some point during their tenure. It may have been to stay in business or not. You need to remember that as you continue to make tough choices, you will become better at making them and the “gut” feeling I referred to in the opening paragraph will develop and help you feel even more confident in your decision-making ability. Hang in there! Making tough choices will make you a better competitor and build a greater business in the long run. These choices may not always make you popular, but with them, comes respect from those who know how much time and effort you invested before making your final decision.

1504_OPE_FS_Profit Center Series-Part III-Service2_author-Jeff Sheets-webJeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past nine years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at opeconsultingservices@gmail.com or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at www.opeconsultingservices.com.