Make Tough Decisions By Seeking Excellence, Not Perfection

November 04, 2021

If you don’t like making decisions, small business ownership will not be your cup of tea.

If just the thought of having to choose between two undesirable alternatives gives you a headache, don’t quit your job.

If you obsess about which direction to take because you know you’ll have to live with any mistake you make, be sure to clock in tomorrow and thank your employer for the job.

Clearly, making decisions is easier for some than others, and it’s human nature to put off hard decisions. But there’s nothing easy about being a business owner, including having to make lots of decisions that are difficult, frightening, and sometimes even professionally and financially perilous.

Not only do business owners have to make many decisions, but in his book, Tough Management, my friend Chuck Martin proposes that one of the seven principles of effective management is the ability to actually force tough decisions; to cultivate a management practice that gets the toughest decisions right out front and dealt with as soon as possible.

But in his research, Martin discovered that the difference between what management thought they were doing with regard to effective decision-making, and what their subordinates felt their bosses were doing, made it look like these two groups weren’t watching the same ballgame.

According to Martin’s research, two-thirds of managers believed they were making timely decisions, dealing with tough calls quickly, and acquiring input from subordinates. But when employees were asked about their boss’s decision-making performance, only a third supported their leader’s self-evaluation.

Failure to make tough decisions by any CEO could lead to, well, failure. But the impact of avoiding the tough calls is more treacherous for a small business CEO for at least two reasons: recovery options for small firms are limited, and the speed of Main Street marketplace judgment on indecision will take your breath away.

Here are three steps Martin suggests as a way to deal with tough decisions, each followed by my comments.

  1. Gather the information: The information comes from your experience and research conducted within the constraints of resources and time.
  2. Make the decision: The essence of entrepreneurship is being prepared to risk what you know for what you might learn. The most successful managers can pull the trigger on tough decisions even when they don’t have every answer.
  3. Move on: Once you’ve made a decision, execute on it without second-guessing yourself. If it turns out your decision wasn’t quite good enough, that’s not an indictment of the decision you made, but the first information to inform your next decision.

When you make lots of decisions, and make them as quickly as possible, you’ll begin to make smaller decisions producing two results:

1) the consequences of each decision will be of less, up or down; and 2) a bad decision will be less likely to take you down.

You’ve no doubt heard the term: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As a CEO, you may find Blasingame’s Law of Decision-Making to be handier: “Seek excellence, not perfection.” Maintaining this perspective while making tough decisions will find you in either of these scenarios, both examples of how to seek excellence:

  1. On your time: You’ve done as much as you can, you know as much as is possible at this moment, and the only way to learn more is to discover whatever is on the other side of your decision.
  2. On a deadline: You’ve done as much as you can, you know as much as is possible at this moment, and missing the deadline is worse than whatever is on the other side of your decision.

Perfection is the unicorn of the marketplace and seeking it will take you down. But you and your organization can seek and achieve excellence, and you’ll find more of it on the other side of every decision.

Write this on a rock ... Seek excellent decisions, not perfect ones.