How to make a tough choice in a struggling business

Silicon Cape
14 Oct 2014

A friend whose business is going through a tough time called round to see me the other day. He had lots of problems that he wanted to talk through and in each case the real problem was not identifying the root cause or even finding solutions, it was making choices.

We kind of worked our way through all the problems using an approach I learnt from a former mentor, one that I recommend to anyone facing a similar situation.

My old mentor told me two things that have proved invaluable to me:

1. Most of the time when we ask for solutions to our problems we already know the answer. Our subconscious got there straight away; we just let our conscious mind talk us out of it.

To help to get back to that instinctive (and usually correct) choice, assume it is already known and you are just there to tease it out. Ask how each choice made them feel. It is a way of distinguishing truth from honesty. Rather than choose for people, help them bring their hidden choices to the surface.

2. People waste time and energy on choices they haven’t got. If you can’t make a hard decision with lots of options then make an easy binary one.

What he meant by this was if you are torn between options, find things about the situation that are non-negotiable as they may drive you down the only path you can take. Take this example:

You have two employees, you need to make one redundant but you can’t choose between them. 

Binary choices

Do you have to pay them off?  Yes/No.

If yes is the cost to you equal? Yes/No.

If the cost is not equal can you afford to pay either one of them off? Yes/No. 

Through the binary process you may arrive at the conclusion that you have to get rid of person A not person B and you never had a choice of which person to make redundant because your financial circumstances did not permit you the luxury of choosing. It’s not a perfect example but if you’re helping out or stuck with hard choices I hope it helps.