This month’s theme is Spring into Action. Last month we discussed tips for making effective decisions, and I wanted to delve a little deeper into that to help everyone develop some specific action items. I’ve outlined a few details on effective tactics and tools that can be helpful in pulling together a decision, and real-life application examples to help you envision these efforts in your own business.
I would never want to dissuade leaders from listening to their gut or intuition when it comes to making a big decision. A gut feeling has been the guiding light for many amazing ideas in business and beyond. While gut instinct is important, it’s a mistake to completely ignore evidence and data in the face of something you feel or hope to be true.
Before making any big decision, it’s essential to gather data points and evaluate if the results support your intuition. However, gathering unbiased data can be challenging. What’s the best way to do this?
Client surveys, polls, focus groups (even through social media or amongst employees) can all be incredibly effective ways of gathering feedback or data points. When creating surveys, interviewing focus groups, etc, it’s important to frame questions with any biases completely stripped from the verbiage. If questions aren’t completely neutral, they could become what is called a “leading question” and skew your results.
For example, a leading question might be: We always strive to be helpful and friendly. How friendly and helpful was the sales team at Company?
Rate how helpful or unhelpful you found the sales team at Company. In this second example, you allow the respondent to consider if their experience was unhelpful OR helpful, and not be guided into responding in a certain way that doesn’t reflect their actual experience.
Double barrel questions are also a big no-no in survey writing. This would be any question that is asking respondents to evaluate two or more things at once. Going back to the example of a leading question above, it is also a double-barreled question, as you are having respondents evaluate helpfulness and friendliness at once in the same rating system. Your sales team might be friendly but unhelpful or vice versa.
Capturing a wide audience is also important. If you simply poll all of your closest friends and mentors, you are going to get different results than if you were to poll your entire town. Being too segmented about the audience can skew results, however, you want to balance that with reaching folks that are most relevant to the decision at hand. For example, a way to do this with the sales team evaluation example from earlier in mind would be instead of just surveying all clients that closed a deal with the sales team, survey any individual that had an introductory call with a member of the team, regardless of whether or not the deal was closed. This way, you can be sure to capture a range of experiences from those interacting with that team.
It is most effective to outline a plan for using and analyzing the data before you start the surveying process so the interpretation of results won’t ultimately be skewed on any personal feelings or beliefs. It is always helpful to input results into some sort of graph to see a visual representation, rather than reading through unique responses and being drawn to those that support your beliefs. This way, there’s no denying where the data points fall.
Utilizing Decision Tools
Once you’ve gathered the data you need, it’s time to put together a formalized analysis to ultimately make the final call. Utilizing decision tools can be an incredibly effective way to evaluate scenarios and guide you to an educated conclusion. Here are a few examples of my favorites:
SWOT analysis: SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, which is exactly what this analysis technique helps you evaluate. This type of analysis is a great exercise to perform before making any big change in your business, as it paints a comprehensive picture of the factors at play. The traditional structure of a SWOT is to create a table with four columns, formatted like the below.
|List and evaluate your company’s strengths as it relates to the decision at hand.||List and evaluate your company’s weaknesses as it relates to the decision at hand.||List and evaluate areas to consider as possible opportunities as it relates to the decision at hand.||List and evaluate external factors which pose a threat to the decision at hand.|
Decision matrix: A decision matrix is another effective tool that is especially helpful when you are trying to decide between several options. To compile a decision matrix, create a table similar to SWOT, however, each column is a potential option and each row is a factor to evaluate against. You can give a weight to each factor based on importance, and then rate how each option measures up against the factors out of 10 (10 being the most aligned). Multiply the rating by the weight and simply tally up the scores. The highest score most closely meets your needs. It’s all just math! Here is an example based on choosing a dog breed for a pet.
PEST analysis: A PEST analysis is a very similar approach and format to a SWOT, however it gets a little more detailed, focusing on political, economic, social, and technological factors that have the potential to influence your business. This is a great tool to use when attempting to predict future trends and how they might relate to the decision at hand. This is also a good tool to use for scenario planning and can even be a helpful exercise to perform quarterly or bi-yearly as a general touch base with the external factors impacting your industry.
I hope you found these tools and techniques helpful in formalizing your decision-making process. If you find yourself struggling with making effective business decisions, or are unsure what your next steps should be to achieve growth, consider exploring a complementary business diagnostics or leadership coaching session with a professional business coach for entrepreneurs.
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