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To Make a Tough Decision, Weigh the Issues

March 25, 1997|GARY IZUMO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gary Izumo is an instructor in the Moorpark College business department and has managed his own consulting practice. He is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and practice leader for the strategic management consulting practice of Price Waterhouse

Tough decisions. We all have them. We struggle with them.

We work in an increasingly demanding environment and we don't have the luxury of putting up a "Do Not Disturb" sign. Our day-to-day work continues to pile up and we can't seem to get to the end of our to-do lists. In the midst of this, a tough decision falls into our lap.

Sometimes tough decisions reflect multiple goals that conflict at times. For example, along with customer satisfaction and profits, your company believes the environment is important. You have the opportunity to use a new type of environmentally friendly but more costly material. If you try to raise prices to offset higher costs, you risk losing customers. You can help the environment at the expense of higher customer prices or lower profits, or both. Or you can maintain your prices and profits at current levels, knowing the environment is being harmed as a result of your decision. What do you do?

Tough decisions can arise from the needs of different stakeholders--those people or organizations your decisions affect. For example, your team has worked hard for the past four months to complete development of a new multimedia product. There have been too many late nights and weekends to count, so completion of the project has not come too early. Several team members are experiencing health problems and another has family difficulties. But today your boss has asked you to pull your team together for another crash project. The primary product line that produces 65% of the company's revenues needs to be upgraded in response to a new competitor's attack. What do you do?

Tough decisions also emerge from striving to balance a successful career and a meaningful personal life. Imagine you are up for a major promotion and have been working 70-hour weeks to demonstrate you deserve it. Your spouse has been supportive but feels neglected, so you have promised a weekend for the two of you at your favorite getaway. It's Friday afternoon and the largest client in your design firm calls with an emergency, and asks--or, more accurately, demands--that you clear your weekend to resolve the emergency. What do you do?

One response to a tough decision is to ignore it. However, ducking a tough decision is a decision. And the no-decision response often leads to worse consequences.

A better approach is to deal with the tough decision. What you should consider and how you address the tough decision are clearly influenced by the circumstances and the nature of the decision, but here are considerations that can improve the quality of your decision making:

* Clarify the issue underlying the tough decision so that you can identify your alternatives. You might be able to identify a creative solution that limits or eliminates your initial projection of negative consequences.

* Periodically communicate your priorities and circumstances to your stakeholders, so at a minimum they will better understand your decision. With this information, they can work with you to identify a mutually acceptable decision. Or a stakeholder will better understand your situation and can avoid making requests that will place you in an awkward position.

* Identify your priorities, near-term and long-term. Think about what is deeply important to you, what you value, as you establish your long-term priorities. Your near-term priorities should be consistent with and reflect these longer-term priorities. Then, on an ongoing basis, assess and test them. If you understand the relative importance of your priorities, your tough decisions will be less stressful and you will feel stronger as you communicate and take action on them.

* Understand that there are long-term and short-term consequences to your decision. Write down on a piece of paper the positive and negative consequences, short-term and long-term, along with your priorities so that you can better evaluate your decision.

* Test your decision--look in the mirror. Do you respect what you see? Ask yourself how you will react if a reporter was interested in your decision and wanted to interview you. Imagine explaining your decision to your spouse or child.

* Know your emotional state and stress level before making a decision. Try to make the decision when you are calm and can think clearly. As best you can, avoid making a tough decision when you are overly tired, stressed or angry.

Making a positive difference, responsibilities and tough decisions are intertwined. We face tough decisions--no doubt about it. Because avoiding them doesn't work, be ready. Be prepared.

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