Do you have the foresight to make the tough decisions before you need to?

While it’s completely human to put off the tough decisions until the last possible moment, it’s rarely judicious.

Emotions obscure our objectivity as we approach a deadline, whereas weeks or months out we can evaluate decisions with cooler detachment. This is especially so in matters of business partnerships.

The first story this week comes from a business with three equal owners. The owners regularly find it hard to reach agreement, even on what seems to be the most innocuous decisions.

Part of the problem is that the owners believe that all three of them must concur before they can make a decision. So it’s unanimous agreement on everything from hiring a new employee through to the brand of photocopier paper. It makes for a slow and cumbersome business.

Clearly a better way would be to have guidelines on the decision-making process: some basic rules outlining which decisions could be taken by a single owner, which required a majority of owners and which required unanimous agreement.

The owners wanted to delay formulating these rules until they could explore it on real decisions. So for example they wanted to wait until they needed to hire an employee to decide whether it was okay for the hiring decision to be agreed by just two of the owners.

Putting off the decision about the rules in this way was never going to work. In all likelihood if the third owner had not agreed with the hiring decision he would also not have agreed that such a decision could be made by a simple majority.

So after much persuasion, and some serious brain-ache, the three owners drafted up guidelines for the decision-making process. And although the guidelines are not always popular, they are certainly working in terms of speeding up what was a rather laborious process.

The other story this week comes from a business jointly owned by two women. One is recently married and the other is getting married next year. The prospect of motherhood is looming and the owners ‘half-wanted’ to address the issue of maternity leave. I say ‘half-wanted’ because although they felt they needed to formalise the deal before either of them was pregnant they realised it was going to be a tough conversation. By postponing the discussion they could also postpone potential conflict.

As it happens because neither woman was pregnant when they did have the formal discussion there were no hard feelings. Both women could imagine themselves equally in either seat (that of taking maternity leave or holding-the- fort) and so were very objective. They did say though that had one of them been pregnant during the discussion then both of them would more than likely have been batting to favour their own situation.

Both these examples are of decisions taken before they absolutely had to be made, and both businesses agreed that making the discussion a priority before it became a necessity made it a much less painful process. You’ve just got to find the time to do it.

Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses:Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of “How to Bake a Business”  and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).


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