How to make hard decisions less hard

#managing_yourself We have to make hard decisions all the time as managers. How do we make such decisions less hard on ourselves?

Now I sit with different faces
in rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
some are here and some are missing
in the nineteen-nineties
I never dreamt that I would get to be
the creature that I always meant to be
but I thought in spite of dreams
you’d be sitting somewhere here with me


Pet Shop Boys, Being Boring


Have you ever had to make a difficult decision either at work or in your personal life? Maybe you need to be the bearer of bad news such as letting someone go. The crippling thoughts of whether or not you are doing the right thing can be time consuming and exhausting. Tough decisions are hard because it’s often unclear if it’s the right thing to do. Mixed in with such experiences, is how we’re feeling - and in these moments, we’re unwell.

Naturally, as prediction machines, we tend to spin around and around regarding what we are going to do and what might go wrong. As a salve for this terrible plight, it occasionally works. We have that a-ha moment, which creates that ray of certainty, and with that certainty, we’re able to move on in the present - briefly. For me, the regression often occurs as I think about the moment when I have to deliver the decision, especially when the impact on some people is harmful. Invariably, there could be some second-guessing.

More often, the a-ha moment never arrives, so we make a risk-adjusted decision and hope that it works out.

For years, these types of decision-making scenarios troubled me until I encountered Suzy Welch’s approach called 10-10-10.

Suzy’s method is a simple thought exercise:

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 months?

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 years?

These time frames provide a structured way of thinking and force me to get some distance behind my decision. Going back to my example of separation. The self-talk often goes something like this:

What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?

I’m going to feel awful telling J that they are no longer a fit here. I will miss working with them. They are going to feel scared and feel a flood of emotions, including how to tell their spouse. As other people learn of the news, they might be embarrassed. Some people disagree with me, and they will be upset. J was doing work, and now that work has to be transitioned to K.

What are the consequences of my decision in 10 months?

J will find a job, and that job will be a better fit. They have excellent skills in specific areas that we don’t need. K will pick up the slack and thrive. The people who wondered if I made the right decision will turnaround when K does well.

What are the consequences of my decision in 10 years?

J will probably be better off exploring new opportunities in the next 10 years, than staying here where they were underperforming. They will be happier knowing that the company appreciates their work. If they stayed here for 10 years, their career would stagnate.

As a side-effect of this thought exercise, the time-traveling nature gives me a framework for how I can be helpful after I’ve made my decision. In the separation example, how do I honor an employee’s time at the company even if it’s a separation? If I believe they can be a great fit somewhere else, how can my connections help make sure they land on their feet?

Critically, the thought exercise has saved me from countless hours of second-guessing in some cases or preventing disastrous decisions in other moments. So, the next time you find yourself in a position where you have to make a tough call - give the 10-10-10 technique a shot.

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