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How to fix a bad decision

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

A bad decision in our planning and execution of communication activity is something all communicators dread. But how do we recognize when we have made a bad decision and what do we do when we realize it?

Obviously some decisions are more important than others. Minor poor decisions can easily be corrected but major poor decisions need more attention because they could derail a project. The viability of key decisions can also affect our credibility with others such as senior management, peers, staff and customers.

Unfortunately, a change may require some effort and cost in terms of dollars and political standing, and therefore may be unpalatable to consider.

Evaluate decisions within a given timeframe

It’s important with any project to build in reviews at appropriate times to evaluate the progress being made and to determine whether any important decisions need amending or superseding. Suitable times for review include the end of component stages of the project. However, sometimes you get the chance for continuous monitoring and feedback, and so you could review according to specific timelines, eg every week or month, or when certain types of responses should have been received from target audiences. These types of responses include the amount of media coverage or customer responses to coupons etc. If you aren’t sure of the best time to do the reviews, ask your team members or other stakeholders of the project. Often, a third party gives a fresh viewpoint.

Decide key criteria to measure the effectiveness of the decision

Select measurable criteria to judge whether the decision is working as well as you want. By keeping to measurable criteria, you have figures to refer to rather than subjective views and your own ego. For instance, you could set a figure for an acceptable proportion of responses to a mail out, the numbers of acceptances to attend a client event, favorable responses in a stakeholder survey, bookings for an event, etc.

I’ve had to make some hard decisions in the past five years about whether to proceed or not with professional development events I have organized for my chapter of the local PR institute. Some of the decisions have been tough to make because venues need you to estimate numbers ahead of the event, but many people leave their booking until the last minute. The uncertainty can be nail biting! At which point do you cancel and bear the cost of that, or do you tough it out and run the risk of incurring greater costs when few turn up?

Stay factual

Even though you may feel passionate about the project, confine yourself to making factual statements to others, especially to senior management, about the project’s effectiveness. Senior managers won’t respect you if you have glowingly described a project that needs resuscitation shortly after. Don’t allow your emotions or ego color your view or cause you to delay making a necessary change.

Listen to others’ views

Even though you may strongly support a decision relating to a project, don’t allow yourself to be irrationally tied to that decision. If others are telling you a decision isn’t working out, be prepared to listen and be prepared to cut your losses by pulling the plug. Too many people hang on to business decisions for too long because they have an emotional attachment to the project and don’t want to appear weak by reversing the decision (‘flip-flopping’). Or by not wanting to admit a mistake to senior managers. However, senior managers will respect you more if you bite the bullet and are decisive about reversing a decision.

Reverse a decision decisively

Don’t hope that procrastination will make the problem go away – life doesn’t work like that (unfortunately!). Reversing a decision is a decision in itself and sends a signal to others that you are able to move quickly to fix a situation – that you aren’t too proud to do so. Treat it as a good learning experience – we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Move on emotionally; don’t feel sorry for yourself. By admitting you have been wrong you will gain more respect from others. Comfort yourself that making a bad decision isn’t as bad as sticking with a bad decision.

By setting up a review mechanism for your communication projects at key points of time, you will give yourself a better chance of fixing bad decisions and keeping the projects on track for success.

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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