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4 Decision Debacles That Could Have Been Prevented

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We admire the ability of a leader to make quick decisions—we call it “decisiveness”—but we revere more the leader who makes good decisions. Decision debacles most often happen because the decision maker hasn’t taken the time to learn what is and isn’t working currently, hasn’t consulted anyone else, and hasn’t established the criteria for a good decision. Here are three ways to avoid decision debacles.


Make sure you understand current processes and allegiances. 

Every successful organization depends on collaboration between its employees, the leadership of individuals who may not have the title but do have the respect of staff, and interactions that are taken for granted but are vital to the company’s functioning. If those are overlooked during decision making, a decision is doomed.

Debacle #1:  The Vice President of Sales decided that divisions should compete with each other for sales leadership and higher commissions. As a result, division managers who previously shared their sales techniques and referrals, stopped sharing and stopped referring. Sales plummeted, resentment soared, and turnover increased. A different and better decision might have been made if the VP had first looked at the way sales were really being generated—across division lines.


Communicate often and share the decision making.

If a decision is rooted in one person’s priorities and no one else is brought into the decision, then the decision will likely fail. Decisions by a leader require, at a minimum, cooperation by the team being led. However, in the best case, the team will have and understanding of the problem, been given time to study solutions and present their own ideas, and have a clear understanding of their roles in implementing or supporting the final decision.

Debacle #2: To impress the client, the leader wanted the project to come in ahead of time and told everyone in the team to speed up. As a result, team members sacrificed quality for speed, became stressed by the situation, and lost motivation as they realized they were producing sub-par work. After the client received the project, much of the work had to be re-done, completely negating the benefits of early delivery.

If the leader had communicated with the team—given a reason for the decision, opened the decision to objections, and allowed the team time to research alternative ways to either impress the client or save time—the project might have come in ahead of time and with the quality that the client expected. 


Change your decision criteria based on analysis and fact-finding.

After a leader makes a successful decision, inertia sets in. The same criteria are used over and over to justify the same decision, without regard for changing circumstances or the true obstacles to meeting a goal. Analysis and fact-finding are dismissed as unnecessary; the decision is based solely on past experience. 

Unchanging criteria lead to decisions that the cause of a problem, such as a fall in revenue, is always due to a condition outside the company’s control (an economic downturn). Crisis management becomes routine.

Debacle #3: Every time sales of a product drop, the product manager demanded an increase in the product’s features, without any investigation into cause-and-effect or consumer preferences. Unfortunately, the most recent drop in sales stemmed from feature overload; the competitor’s design was simpler and made the product easier to operate. When the team added even more features, sales dropped even further.

Debacle #4: An organization faced with a loss of revenue laid off the less valued staff. That worked well the first time; but the second time, it led highly valued employees to resign. They saw the pattern developing and had the expertise and self-confidence to quickly find a job at a more stable company elsewhere. The loss of in-house knowledge and productivity, plus the additional costs of replacing valuable employees, far outweighed the temporary savings from downsizing yet again.

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