A bad decision in planning and implementation of strategies is something we all dread. But how do we recognize when we have made a bad decision and what do we do when we realize it? So, how do we fix a bad decision? And how do we avoid a bad decision?
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 had to make some hard decisions about whether to proceed or not with professional development events I organized for my chapter of the local PR institute. Some of the decisions were 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?
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 other’s 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.
You can also read my article, “New ways to make tough decisions” for further insights into making good decisions.
Four ways to deal with problematic situations
International professional services firm, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), has summarized in the helpful 2018 diagram below what you can do if you are reviewing your options for decision making when confronted by a problematic situation or issue. Worth keeping at hand for reference.
How to avoid bad decisions
Five of the biggest reasons for making bad decisions are explained by Farnam Street strategist, Shane Parrish, a former cybersecurity expert at Canada’s top intelligence agency. Parrish is now a business intelligence expert with many elite Wall Street clients, as observed by the New York Times in a feature article about him published on 11 November 2018: “How a Former Canadian Spy Helps Wall Street Mavens Think Smarter.”
Interesting guy. He had 190,000 subscribers to his free weekly newsletter in 2018 when the NYT article was published. More now, most likely.
Mr. Parrish has a simple solution to business problems: reading, reflection and lifelong learning.
The intriguing name of his newsletter, “farnam street,” is based on the name of the street in Omaha where the head office of famous company, Berkshire Hathaway, is located. His hero, Charlie Munger, who is business partner of Warren Buffett, have made a legendary success of their business.
Anyhow, Shane Parrish says in his article that:
1. Our thinking is unintentionally stupid. [How tactful!]
We tend to kid ourselves that we make rational decisions. Novel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and collaborator Amos Tversky turned economics upside down when their Prospect Theory proved that human decisions, including investment decisions, are often deeply influenced by irrational factors such as heuristics and cognitive biases.
Warning signs that you are about to unintentionally do something silly:
- You are tired, emotional, in a rush, or distracted, and/or
- You are working in a group or working with an authority figure.
The takeaway: Never make important decisions when you are tired, emotional, distracted, or in a rush.
2. We solve the wrong problem.
In a group, the first person to state the problem rarely has the best insight into the problem. Once a problem is discussed with the team, however, we tend to forget to first ask if we’re solving the right problem.
Warning signs you are solving the wrong problem:
- You let someone else define the problem for you.
- You are far away from the problem.
- You are thinking about the problem at only one level or through a narrow lens.
The takeaway: Never let anyone else define the problem for you.
3. We use incorrect or insufficient information.
People don’t always tell us the truth or understand the full facts of what they are talking about. And we also like to think we have all the information we need.
Warning signs you have incorrect or insufficient information:
- You are speaking to someone who spoke to someone who spoke to someone. Someone (you!) will get into trouble when the truth emerges.
- You are reading about it in the news.
The takeaway: Look for information from someone as close to the source as possible. They have earned their knowledge and have developed an understanding that you don’t have. When information is filtered for various reasons, consider the motives and incentives of your sources and their proximity to earned knowledge.
4. We fail to learn.
People make the same mistakes over and again. You must reflect on your reactions. Reflection has to be part of your process, not what you do if you think you have time. Don’t use the excuse of being too busy or get too invested in protecting your ego. Overall, you can’t learn from experience without reflection. Only reflection allows us to distill experience into something we can learn from to make better decisions in the future.
Warning signs you are not learning:
- You think you are too busy to reflect.
- You don’t keep track of your decisions.
- You can’t evaluate your own decision-making.
The takeaway: Be less busy. Keep a learning journal. Reflect every day.
5. We focus on appearances over outcomes.
We are conditioned to do easy over what’s right. After all, it’s often easier to signal being virtuous than actually being virtuous.
Warning signs you are focused on perceptions:
- You are thinking about how you will defend your decision.
- You are knowingly choosing what’s defendable over what’s right.
- You would make a different decision if you owned the firm, company or organization.
- You realize you are saying what your boss would want.
The takeaway: Act as you would want an employee to act if you owned the firm, company or organization.
Parrish says avoiding bad decisions is just as important as making good ones. Knowing the warning signs and having a set of rules for your decision-making process reduces the amount of luck u need to get good outcomes.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.