You may be aware of recent research pegging the average number of decisions an adult makes every day at 35,000. As a small business leader and entrepreneur, you can be certain your number is even higher. Running a business means facing a barrage of decisions every day – and sometimes all night.
“Every hour of every day in a small business you have to decide what to do,” says Sharon Ranson, executive leadership coach and President of The Ranson Group in Toronto. “In a smaller company there often isn’t a structure in place to help support the decision-making process.”
Before establishing a process, it’s important to step back and take a big-picture view of your business and where you want it to go. What kind of culture do you want for your business? What’s required to be competitive in your industry? Do you want to be innovative, or conservative and safe? Do you want to empower those around you to become leaders and take initiative, or do you want to ensure centralized control?
“Some people have a greater appetite for moving into the unknown,” says Ranson. “Your small businessperson may resist adding structure and formality, but the more you can establish routines and processes to support decision-making, the more room you create to deal with the big stuff.”
Decisions in and of themselves are much more powerful than simple elements on a to-do list, to be plowed through as quickly as possible and checked off as you go. The decisions you make in your business – even the small ones – affect the people around you, the trajectory your business is on, and the culture of your brand. And the impacts compound over time.
Hence, how you make decisions and who makes your decisions are every bit as important as what those decisions are. Consider the impact on culture from these two differing pieces of advice.
- Downside Focus
Tom Anastasi, author of The Successful Entrepreneur: American Dream Done Right, recommends that entrepreneurs think of all the possible negative things that could go wrong, and all the reasons the decision before you is a bad idea. Anastasi says that if you’ve looked at everything negative and “you haven’t scared yourself off”, it’s safe to take the decision to the next step.
- Upside Focus
David Reeve, author of Unleash Culture: Discover Greatness Within, takes a much different approach from Anastasi. Reeve’s position is that looking for negatives first breeds a culture of fear. “Many people do indeed operate their businesses from a place of fear,” Reeve writes. “They base their decisions and actions around the what if it goes wrong scenario instead of the what if it goes right scenario.”
Neither of these approaches is incorrect, and neither will work for every business. Knowing your personal style as an entrepreneur and knowing what type of culture you are creating will tell you which approach serves you.
Intuition is another one of the tools that will work for some entrepreneurs better than others: those who have heavier doses of intuition and feeling will be more comfortable relying on intuition than those whose personality types are more analytical and data-driven. Either way, business decisions are predictive gambles and the facts can only take you so far.
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. – Albert Einstein
However, Gary Klein, author of The Power of Intuition, cautions that entrepreneurs who work alone are more prone to intuition-error pitfalls: flawed information, emotional bias, prejudice, and inadequate consideration of alternatives. The antidote, according to Klein, is to ensure a structured decision-making process.
That’s what Sharon Ranson has done in her own business, and it’s what she counsels for others. “The more you can standardize and systematize your decision-making processes, the more you will set your business up for growth.”
Between them, Boni and John Wagner-Stafford have five decades of experience as entrepreneurs and/or providing consulting services to other small businesses across Canada.