Why don’t your people make decisions? Why do they procrastinate and delay decisions until
they have more info, better info or anything else that will help them justify another week without committing to action? Or better yet, they’ll wait until you come up with the decision yourself in the absence of any firm stance on their behalf.
Well, some recent research explores just that – why people fail to make decisions when the choices are right in front of them. And the major finding is that people who get paralysed in the face of choice have a low degree of inhibition. That’s not to say that they are extroverted, what it means is that their ability to inhibit some choices – to not choose something – is greatly decreased and without the ability to narrow down choices to a final one, decision-making (or choice-making) is impossible.
Stop thinking so much!
Think of it like this. Just say I need to choose between five types of chocolate bars. I think that I want the Mars Bar, but the rest of them look good as well. I can’t stop the thought of what might happen if I don’t choose the others, I can’t convince myself that the Snickers or the Twix or the others would be the wrong choice (I can’t inhibit those decisions) and this prevents me from making any decision at all. Some people will, in fact, walk away empty handed. Especially, as the study explains, those with high anxiety traits.
So what does this mean for your team members?
Well, what are the reasons that people dwell on alternate choices? What is it that stops people from ruling out the myriad of possibilities in order to make a decision and move the project forward? Here are two things that are of utmost importance.
1. Clarity: Make sure you have one single most important thing to focus on
It is no surprise that most executives complain of conflicting priorities (see this research from Booz and Co). And if this is the case, then just imagine how their subordinates feel. With so many conflicting priorities for our teams, it is no wonder that people fail to make decisions that stick. When we don’t know what is most important, then everything is important, and it is impossible to prioritise decisions.
2. Celebrate Failure: Don’t punish people for making the wrong decisions
In the vast majority of organisations that I have worked with that cite indecision as a problem, the one common thread they have is that people feel that it is not okay to fail. In these companies, failure brings horrible consequences, regardless of intention. Now, while people shouldn’t be making the same mistakes over and over again (another problem for another blog) people should also feel that if they make a decision and it’s wrong, they will still get full support and it will be treated as a learning experience. So celebrate failure. Let people know that, sure, Jenny failed, but what were the positives that came out of it, and how proud were you that she made the decision in the right context anyway?
Check with your people to see if this is how they feel. Do they really understand what is most important? How do they view failure – do they think it is punished or treated as a lesson learned? The answers to these will tell you if and why your people get stuck in the black hole of indecision.