Critical Insight When Making Tough Decisions


If you need to make a difficult decision make sure you understand your surroundings as much as you understand the facts and details of what it is you’re trying to decide upon.

I recently had lunch with a colleague to discuss some key decisions that I need to make in our business surrounding strategy.  I presented my facts, beliefs, and experience with great passion.  My plan was both logical and well thought through.  I knew however that some of my decisions, while believed by the team the correct ones to make, would create some discomfort.  Why?  Because while we can all understand logic, and positive correlations, we are after all human beings, and human beings dislike change no matter how sound, logical, positive, or necessary that change is.

My colleague, who has years of experience and incredible wisdom said to me, “be aware of the issues that are not part of the issues.”  This statement perplexed me.  I didn’t understand.  When I asked her to explain she provided this wonderful story that provided the clarity to what she was saying.

For years she had her hair cut by the same stylist.  Through life’s many trials and tribulations, ups and downs, good times and bad, this stylist cut her hair and listened to her stories.  As times changed she wanted a new hair style but the stylist was unable to provide the cut she wanted.  She knew she had to make a change but her feelings and emotions of abandoning this stylist were strong.  She is an intensely loyal person and the thought of ending this long-standing relationship was quite troubling.  Her head told her it was the right thing to do but her heart was most certainly conflicted.  So while the issue at hand was achieving a new hair style, the emotional issue tied to her sense of loyalty came to the forefront of her making the decision to go elsewhere…hence the issue (emotional), not part of the issue (new hair style).

Bottom line:  It’s critical to understand emotions when making a decision. Your emotions as well as those of the key stakeholders involved in that decision are paramount to effective decision-making.  Emotional history, sometimes referred to as baggage, can play a major role in decision-making.  Being aware of these issues, that are not part of the actual issue being decided upon, can help you frame your approach.  Your decision is your decision.  It’s the “how” (the approach) you present your decision that can often times become the difference between effective decision-making and holding the status-quo.


The Positive Power of Regret


We’ve all done it.  Looked back and said, “Gosh I wish I hadn’t done that.”  Decisions we made, things we did or didn’t do that led to an unfortunate, uncomfortable, or disappointing experience.  Many times our failures can be tracked back to a decision we made, failed to make, or even made too hastily.  Likewise, success can be viewed in the same way.  But if you stop to look at the critical moments of your life, or your crucible moments as they’re often called, you may find a new tool in your bag worth using.  Regret.

Oddly enough “woulda, coulda, shoulda” could play a key role in helping to improve your decision-making.  How so?

Let’s imagine I have an important decision to make.  Could be personal, could be professional, it really doesn’t matter which.  I start by looking at the information I have in hand.  What do I know, what don’t I know?  What feelings or emotions strike me as I think through the different paths I could take in making this decision?  Perhaps I take the step to do a typical Pros and Cons sheet.  I write down all the positive things that could happen if I make Decision “A” along with the negative.  I do the same for Decision “B”.  I tally up all the pros from each chart and the one with the most is typically the path I take.  These are all fairly standard techniques in decision-making.  Now let’s add Regret.

Imagine 6 months have passed and you’re not in the place you had hoped you’d be.  Something went wrong along the way and things just didn’t turn out as you expected.  You’re unhappy, miserable, and regretting things.  Now come back to the present and ask yourself, what would I have done different to change that regretful outcome?  Maybe 6 months from now that diet didn’t work and I actually gained weight.  I may have regretted not working out 6 days a week, or eating that bag of potato chips every night.  Six months from now I may have failed my Chemistry class.  I may have regretted not studying enough, or asking for extra help from my professor.  Or maybe 6 months from now I’ve missed my sales goal again.  I may regret not making those extra calls each day when I quit at 5 pm.  I might regret not going to a networking event because it dug into my personal time.

Regardless of whether you have a personal or professional regret, using the positive power of regret may just help you make a different decision in the present that results in a better outcome in the future.  Regret can be a powerful tool when combined with visualization.  Visualize yourself in that unhappy moment, the failure you may feel, the disappointment that weighs on you.  Now take those feelings and ask what would I have done differently?  Regret often times gives you a second chance if you embrace it properly.

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Effective


Another meeting?  Most days start with meetings and end with meetings.  We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call.  Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.

So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?

Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:

1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.

Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.

3 Steps To Begin Your Innovation Journey


Regardless of how long you’ve been in business selling what you sell, STOP! Step back. Look at the market. I mean really look at the market. If you want to do more than survive you need to innovate. Innovation requires you to think differently. To be open-minded, honest, and critical of your current operation. I am not suggesting to be negative, but rather to be realistic and honest about what has changed around you. Take these 3 steps to begin your journey of innovation.

1. Complete a SWOT analysis. This is a detailed look at your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  A SWOT can help provide much needed insight into your next steps. This exercise will force an outside-in view of the market.
2. Create a customer advisory board. Always an odd number of members, a small advisory board of between 5 and 7 customers can provide clear and honest feedback relative to your current products or services, as well as a great testing ground for new ideas. Make sure each member signs an NDA binding them to confidentiality of the information the board discusses.
3. Get a mentor. In an earlier blog titled Great Mentors – The Difference Maker, I talked about the purpose and importance of having a mentor. To be truly innovative requires a different level of thinking. Innovation tests previously held beliefs. In doing so, you will need someone to guide your thinking and keep you honest. Human nature is such that we tend to develop explanations for things we don’t understand or agree with…simply to make us feel better. A great mentor will make sure you face the truth even if it hurts.

Remember, to remain static is to lose ground. You’ve got to have the courage to try, and fail. Push your limits, test your boundaries. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy or suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

No Promotion, Now What? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions.


It’s been a grind for months.  You’ve been working 12 – 13 hour days and weekends to prove you can do it and do it well.  All eyes are on you.  The project you’re in charge of is critical to your company’s future success.  It’s a big deal.  You complete the project and sit back ready to be showered with accolades and compliments by your boss and your peers.  Deep down you know this will be your defining moment…your own personal Mozart Concerto.  You wait…wait a bit longer…still longer…and nothing.

Wow!  What happened.  Your finished work was unbelievable.  You peers and other industry partners even commented on your end result.  Your boss seemed pleased along the way but hasn’t shown any real celebratory emotion.  Of course after all, aren’t you expected to deliver high-quality, near-perfect work?  This scenario is not atypical, but in actuality very common.

So what do you do when you hit this wall?  What actions should you take when the work you thought would seal a promotion turns out to do little more than generate a brief passing smile in a hallway at the office?  Do you quit?  Leave?  Complain?  Ask these 4 questions to help you determine your next course of action.

  1. Why did I expect to be promoted in the first place?  Perhaps you assumed that by delivering an amazing performance you’d somehow get that big title or bigger paycheck.  You may have even believed that your boss would just create a brand new position for you with the big title.  Maybe in a prior conversation your boss alluded to “big things” for those who step up and deliver a solid performance.  If the reason you expected your work to result in a promotion doesn’t contain a “this for that” in your explanation then you yourself have set yourself up for disappointment.  Learning:  If you take on a project, job, initiative that you expect will lead to advancement, be clear with your boss up front about this and get their reaction and their commitment before starting.
  2. What can I do to improve my performance?  This is a tough question to ask.  Most of us believe we’re already doing all the right things.  We sometimes confuse hard work with smart work.  High performers are constantly learning, constantly seeking knowledge, new ideas, perspectives, etc.  Focus always, on improving yourself first.  Personal development should never be weighed against a promotion.  Learning:  Adopt the attitude that you will be the best at your craft regardless of what happens in your work environment.  Even if you don’t get that promotion you can still have confidence in your ability to produce great results. And ultimately those results will be recognized even if by another employer.
  3. Is my boss my advocate?  Does your boss share success or does he take all the glory?  What happens when things go bad?  Are you hung out to dry or is your boss there to absorb a “team loss”?  Does she create situations that allow you to shine and be recognized?  Has he taken the time to introduce you to his boss to create an opportunity for interaction?  Learning:  A boss that lacks confidence or self-esteem will always be a barrier to your progress.  If you find yourself working for a boss that fits this profile…and progression is important to you…you may need to move on.
  4. What do my peers think of me?  This is perhaps the most overlooked area when dealing with promotions or lack of.  Many organizations have implemented performance programs that gather feedback from your peers to include in your annual performance review.  The ever-popular “360” became all the rage in the early 2000’s and still exists today with some variations.  A poor relationship, rapport, or perception of you with your co-workers can kill your career aspirations as quickly as those of a bad boss.  Learning:  Put yourself out there.  Build relationships with your peers as well as those above and below in the organization.  Most companies today place great value on workers who are proficient in influencing, bridge building and negotiating.

Especially in times when the outcome did not match your expectations, self-reflection is critical.  Taking an honest look inside will always help bring perspective to each and every experience you encounter.  Thomas Paine said, “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”  Basically know…it’s okay to talk to yourself.