How do you make decisions?
Do you make a list of the pros and cons? Do you ask a friend you trust? Do you just trust your instincts and hope for the best? I am convinced that most initiatives, campaigns, projects and events are not as effective as they could be because the process that produced those decisions is at best incomplete or at worst, critically flawed.
Decisions are the result of a decision-making system. Bad decisions are often the result of a bad decision-making process, or the lack of a process.
What decision are you facing right now?
- The next product to launch?
- Quitting your job and starting a new business?
- Choosing a new school for your kids?
- Buying a new house or car?
The decision in front of you is either a roadblock or an opportunity. Make the wrong call and it could slow down or stop your momentum. Make the right decision and it could be the breakthrough event that leads you to the next level.
Here’s a decision-making process to guide you through your next decision.
The Starting Point
All projects start with a passion or an idea. Maybe you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea. Maybe you’re sitting in a meeting and daydreaming. Maybe you’re in a focused brainstorming session. Or you’re just inspired. At any rate, you’ve got an idea for something you think could work.
The idea is a cloud now; it’s not a concrete plan. That’s okay – Not every idea you have will become reality. But every now and then, something stirs your soul and you’ll feel compelled to do something. That’s when an idea becomes a vision. That’s when a passion will begin to turn into a plan.
“Great leaders take time to explain to the team what they feel deeply about, what issues they would take a bullet for and why.” – Bill Hybles
Bill Hybles calls this a moment of Holy Discontent…a time when you feel compelled to act.
But not every good idea is worth executing, so your filtering process is crucial. For us, we want to filter the passion or idea through two things.
The Filter of Purpose
In 2006, my family and I moved to Atlanta to start a new church. This is a strange thing…it’s similar to starting a business, except you don’t make products or generate revenue. It’s an organization for sure, but it’s much more than that.
We had a purpose as a church and we said it like this: We are here to lead people from where they are to where God wants them to be. This means that every single thing that we did needed to further that mission and advance that cause.
A good idea that didn’t fit that purpose needed to go.
Many organizations end up with a Cheesecake Factory menu of programs because they aren’t willing to filter the good ideas through the filter of purpose. Many companies end up in industries they should have never entered in the first place.
Your mission isn’t just a slogan for the wall. It’s a very real decision-making filter, that can keep you from doing things that do not matter to the bottom line.
Why does your church or company exist? What is your purpose? If your brilliant idea doesn’t really fit with that purpose, don’t go any further.
The Filter of Values
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Walt Disney
If the idea passes the purpose test, put it through the filter of your values. Values are the way your operate…the things that are really important to you Every organization has values, even if they are not written down.
As you develop an idea, drive it through your values.
If this idea can’t be executed in a way that’s truly consistent with who you are, then you must lay it aside.
Create Your Plan
Let’s say the idea passes the purpose test and is processed through our core values. Now comes the hard part: Planning.
Too many times, we make a decision and then try to figure out the plan. But the best time to plan is before you pull the trigger. Don’t make the decision to quit your job and start a business and then try to make it work. Instead, create your plan in advance so you can move forward with confidence.
During the planning process, your mission is to pull together all the information necessary to execute a decision. You’re trying to think through every detail.
During the evaluation phase (we’ll talk about that later), you’re going to ask tough questions about what could have been done better. Why don’t you ask those questions now? Figure out why something won’t work and then don’t do that!
It’s easy to give into the temptation to execute a good idea right away, but if you move forward without developing a good plan, then your idea will not be properly executed.
Before you make the final decision, do the legwork. Analyze the cost. Figure out the impact. Be realistic about time and effort.
Yes, your execution plan is going to change, but it’s a lot easier to adjust a flight plan than to create one as the plane is going down.
After you’ve filtered your idea through your values and your purpose, and after you’ve developed a strategy and a plan for implementation, it’s time to set some goals.
Without goals, how will you know if your idea worked? Without goals, how will you know how you’re doing? Without goals, how will you know if this new idea is better than your last idea?
Goals should be specific, measurable and attainable. “Have a good event” is not a specific goal. “Draw a crowd” is not measurable. “Raise $10 million” may not be attainable for your organization.
Set some goals, write them down, and measure how you’re doing.
Pull the Trigger
Do you see how much work has gone into an idea before it’s even executed? You’ve taken an idea, and filtered it through your purpose and values. You have developed a general strategy and a specific action plan. And you have set goals.
All of this happens before you have truly decided to move forward. Now that you’ve done all the legwork, laid out a plan and set some goals, it’s time to execute.
If you’ve done the proper legwork, executing your idea should be easy. If you’ve created a strategy and laid out a solid plan for doing an event or launching a program, you’re simply following your own lead. But I do want to point out two things that are easy to overlook.
Communicating a Decision
Until your pull the trigger, the idea has been communicated to very few people. You haven’t gone public with anything yet, because you were not ready.
But once you decide, it’s time to tell everyone.
When you communicate something important, use all the mediums at your disposal. Create a video to share the vision. Create some print collateral. Direct people to a website. Tell the behind the scene story. Create a Facebook event. Mail a postcard to your database. Do an email campaign.
The temptation is to rush the communication, because you’ve been working on this idea for months. But your people are just hearing about it. They haven’t been privy to your conversations and strategy sessions.
In fact, the moment you become sick of talking about something, fearing that you’re beating the horse to death, is the moment that most people are just beginning to understand.
The bigger the launch, the broader your communication plan should be. Smaller, more precise communication is like a rifle. But if you want to communicate to the masses, you’re going to need a shotgun.
There is More Work After the Decision
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once something is executed, you’re done. You can’t sit back and coast, because there’s still work to do.
Golfers, tennis players, and free-throw shooters will all tell you that follow through is important. Tons of great ideas have fizzled out because of poor follow through. A vision is a great thing, but if the vision is never realized and the goal is never reached, it hasn’t done much good.
With that in mind, the best time to determine your follow-up plan is during your strategy sessions. Decide in advance how you’re going to follow up; don’t wait until everyone is tired. Most visionary leaders are excited about the first part of this process, and move on to other things when this phase kicks in. However, that is a sure-fire way to miss achieving the desired results.
If you don’t follow through, then you won’t see the breakthrough. Planning is one thing, but effective execution requires follow through. Think of your decision like swinging a baseball bat or a golf club…you can’t stop at the point of contact, you have to follow through completely.
Plan your follow through in advance.
Not only do you need to follow through, you need to follow up. There might be thank you notes that need to be written. There might be surveys to send out.
Evaluation is critical to improvement. Pull in the people that were involved in the beginning and ask them if the outcome matched their original vision. Ask tough questions. Write down ideas. Take notes on specific things that need to happen.
Evaluate every aspect of your idea. Ask how it could have been better. Ask how it could have been simpler. Collect feedback from different people.
We said earlier that the best time to evaluate something is before it happens. The second best time to evaluate is RIGHT AFTER it happens.
It’s important for you to realize that different people will be excited about different parts of the plan. Personally, I love the vision phase, but right after I pull the trigger, I fade out. That’s why it’s important for me to surround myself with people that love details and follow through.
Other people don’t want to sit around and dream…they want to get right to the tasks. These people will fizzle out if you involve them in the early parts of the process, citing all-talk and little action. However, once the trigger is pulled, you’ll need these hard-working types to help with follow through and follow up.
Don’t just make decisions…think through how you make decisions. And the result will be…a breakthrough!