Timing and Sound Decision-Making

By Dawna Jones

Timing is everything. When assessing any decision, you have to figure out whether your action plan needs to be put into effect now or whether it can wait. Some companies operate permanently in crisis mode, treating everything as urgent; others apply a more strategic approach and rely on an intuitive sense for timing entry into new markets, for instance, or initiating new product development.

Factors determining timing include the following:

  • Detecting or discovering unstated emerging needs in the marketplace

  • Recognizing social changes that open opportunities for innovation

  • Knowing when to stop, change direction, or walk away

  • Identifying innovations that meet multiple needs and for which an implicit demand exists

Your company’s priorities

How important is taking action to achieving long- or short-term company goals? Priorities speak to importance. Companies that track performance by using quarterly targets risk compromising strategic direction. You must consider both the short term and the long term when you set and communicate priorities.

The long-term direction of your company

Working toward longer term or strategic goals happens in incremental steps. Keeping an eye on the long term helps you avoid missing opportunities to adapt quickly.

Your company’s short-term goals

Because they are easy to react to, short-term goals often steal focus away from longer term goals. Start-up companies and small businesses are particularly tempted to deal only with immediate needs, abandoning the steps required to ensure long-term sustainability for the excitement and thrill of taking action now.

Knowing why your company exists and who would care if it disappeared helps you gain clarity on what you need to achieve in the short term that helps you stay in the game for the longer haul.

It’s tempting when working in short-term time increments to attempt to do too much all at once, which can overwhelm everyone. Instead, step back to select strategic priorities. Doing so helps conserve energy while retaining focus on attaining key results.

How the decision affects other areas of your company

Consider the ramifications or implications of your decision and actions. How will the result positively or negatively affect other areas in your company? Too often, decisions are made without regard to the implications on other business units or on other decisions under consideration. Stepping back to see what else is going on, combined with communicating intent and discussing consequences, helps avert unintended consequences.

How urgent the situation is

Will deciding now prevent the escalation of even bigger problems later? When making this determination, keep in mind that some decisions are urgent and some just look that way. You can tell the difference by observing whether your company’s workplace treats everything as an emergency.

When everything is an emergency, it’s hard to separate real from reaction. To take proper action, consider the consequences of not taking action in terms of employee health and safety or company reputation. Use agreed-upon anchors to assess the situation. Failing that, know what you are basing your decision on so you can deliberately choose.

Every company has its own internal dynamic that impacts what issues are deemed urgent and how soon to take action. Here are some considerations:

  • Decisions deemed urgent and important to your organization: These decisions often fall into the realm of executive decision-making and are made quickly, using intuitive decision-making.

  • Decisions that are urgent but not as important as other items on your plate: For these decisions, identify the implications of parking the decision for the time being and the triggers or signals that will bring the decision to the forefront. Also consider whether taking action in one area will address the situation.

    In time-crunched workplaces, it’s tempting to defer important long-term decisions, but doing so creates a decision-making environment in which you and your team end up fighting fires from moment to moment. Use your judgment when deciding whether you should postpone an important decision and notice if deferring decisions becomes a habit.

  • Decisions that are important but not urgent: If the situation is important but not urgent, the decision may be one that serves a longer term goal. For decisions that are strategically important, command time to do the necessary analysis, even though making the final decision isn’t urgent.

    Financially based decisions, like investment or technology decisions, for example, need time so that you can pull together the information required to weigh and make a final decision.

  • Decisions that are neither urgent nor important: These decisions can take up most of your day. They happen at rapid speed and may not require your conscious input. However, when small decisions start replacing bigger, more important decisions, such as those that define company direction, you need to step back and take a look at where your efforts are going.

    If necessary, delegate the smaller operational decisions to those who, because they have access to real-time information you have to seek out, are in a better position to make the decisions.

The availability of resources

When resources — money or time — are scarce (a dilemma most organizations share), decisions get delayed. Perhaps the problem isn’t availability of resources, but how creatively the resources are managed. If you’re delaying a decision because you lack the resources, explore creative and unconventional methods of resource allocation.

Ask whether you can achieve the particular task in a different way. Think how an outsider — someone outside your workplace — would solve the problem. A fresh look and a different perspective can reveal a different approach.

The information available

Obviously, you don’t want to act until you have all the necessary information and have analyzed it sufficiently. Yet delaying a decision as you wait to assimilate all the information and complete your analysis can be a trap.

New information will always come up. You can make a decision based only on what you know now. So how do you know when you know enough? At some point, you’ll feel it purely in your gut. This “gut feeling” — a product of your intuition and your accumulated experience — will enable you to make an informed judgment call.

By combining analysis of the situation with your experience from similar decisions in the past, you’ll be able to decide. At the same time, pressure can impair your rational and intuitive faculties. Then decide.

Business decision-makers aren’t the only ones to benefit from being intuitive about timing. Organizational judgment is improved when companies also balance analytics with good sense.