Five Ways Executives Can Make Better Decisions

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Did you know that half of all managerial decisions fail? How much time, money, reputation, and morale is your business losing because of failed managerial decisions? Do you want to improve those odds and reap higher profits? Here are five things you can do right now to make better decisions--and the resultant more money--for your company:

* Go in without preconceived notions. Don't make decisions in your head before you've carefully weighed the options. Going into a decision without preconceived notions can also encourage practices of nurture and rest that provide perspective and promote good decisions. Bob Carlson, board member and retired co-CEO of Reell Precision Manufacturing (St. Paul, Minnesota), takes walks in the woods and listens to music to help him get perspective, weigh decisions, and let go of preconceived notions. During an economic downturn in early 2001, Bob and his leadership team let go of the preconceived notion that layoffs were necessary. The result? They got through the business slowdown by asking employees to take graduated pay cuts, and they didn't have to lay anyone off. "When we called everyone together and explained the graduated pay cuts we were offering," relates Bob, "there were tears in people's eyes. They thanked us from the bottom of their hears." Morale remained high despite the tough times and everyone was restored to full pay several months later.

* Don't take the easy way out: Commit to discovering underlying issues. Such a commitment helps a leader avoid the trap of settling for easy answers that turn out to be unworkable. When Julius Walls, CEO of Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, faced the challenge of Ben and Jerry's (his primary customer) raising the standards for his product, he asked how he could train his "unemployable" workers (workers hired straight out of prison or drug treatment programs, for example) to meet the higher standards. Through listening to his workers and understanding their issues, he discovered how to walk with them through their development into productive employees.

* Start with thorough information-gathering. Leaders who consistently ask what information is needed, whether it has all been gathered, and whether there are further relevant questions to pursue, make better decisions. Joe Clubb, director of social work at HealthEast healthcare system in Minnesota, tracked down all the relevant information when he headed up the strategic planning effort for St. Joseph's Hospital (one of HealthEast's member hospitals). From talking with the nuns whose foremothers had founded the hospital in 1853, to talking with clinicians who told him of the need for state-of-the-art equipment, to talking with accountants who told him of the financial pressures the hospital faced, Joe left no stone unturned in gathering information.

* Maintain a reflective (or prayerful or meditative) approach to decision-making. Reflection and prayer can provide a way to step back and see the whole picture, letting go of ego needs and asking what is best for the organization. When Genny Nelson, founder of Sisters of the Road Cafe (a cafe for the homeless in Portland, Oregon), found herself with less than $100 in the cafe's bank account, she went to the nearby downtown chapel and prayed, "God, I'm laying it at your feet. I'm a really stubborn woman. If you don't want me to do Sisters anymore, I'll get that, but you gotta give me a big sign, like put it on a billboard: Genny, stop doing Sisters." By stepping back and praying, Nelson found herself with new perspective, got help with fundraising, and was able to get the cafe back on its feet.

* Make tentative decisions and then watch their outcomes for confirmation. The decision is not over until the fruits of the decision are weighed against the organization's vision and mission. When a Southwest Airlines manager made a verbal commitment to contribute substantially to a new airport in Austin, Texas, an hour's drive out of the city, senior executives soon saw the folly of the commitment (since a commuter airline relies on airports close to the city). It would have been easy for senior executives to to back out of the deal, since nothing had been signed. But they made the tentative decision to stick with the commitment, weighing the decision against their company's commitment to honesty and integrity. Even though the decision was costly in the short run, in the long run the company's reputation for keeping its word was upheld. There are dozens more ways to achieve higher profits for your business by bringing spirituality into the workplace, but just start by following these five decision-making strategies and see how quickly your management decisions make more sense!

Copyright © 2005 Margaret Benefiel

About the Author:

Margaret Benefiel, Ph.D., is CEO of ExecutiveSoul.com, professor at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston, and author of the book, "Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations." She speaks widely, leads workshops and retreats, and offers spiritual direction to executives and organizations. Over 300 executives, managers, and other leaders have participated in her seminars and courses. Find out more at http://www.ExecutiveSoul.com

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