Tough Decision Adaptability Flexibity Change Business

7 Steps to Make Tough Decisions with Confidence and Clarity

Making tough decisions is a normal part of running a business. The stakes are high, and the decisions we make can be the cause of some considerable changes.

Some changes happen gradually, like the rising of the sun – almost imperceptibly – from complete darkness to broad daylight. Other changes are sudden, and cause a dramatic shift from one circumstance to another, like a bushfire, an earthquake, or a storm. The impact of these sudden changes are quite dramatic and far-reaching. As I write this, I am about to attend the funeral for my son’s friend, a beautiful environmental scientist taken far too soon. That was a big and difficult change to experience for everyone who knew her.

What do we know about Change?

The 12th Permaculture principle is: Creatively Use and Adapt to Change, which reminds us that we are always in a constant state of change. Seasons change from cold to warm, wet to dry, day turns into night and into day again. Seeds sprout, plants and animals grow, bear fruit, then die, and decay. These are all gradual changes that we can adapt to easily from one day to another, to acclimatise to the seasons and so forth.

It’s the bigger, and sudden changes that can be more of a challenge. When you’re used to something being a certain way, and then without any warning and with no time to prepare for it, it’s gone, changed, different, and you are forced to adjust to this new situation in a short space of time, that perhaps you are not accustomed to doing. 

There are people who thrive in their agility and flexibility to adapt well, and there are others who don’t roll with the punches quite so naturally. The law of nature reminds us that it is the species that can adapt to changing environments that survive, and those that don’t, well, they don’t survive.

Can you see the business wisdom in accepting change and being adaptable and flexible? It’s pretty obvious from a philosophical point of view, but how do we turn that into practical action on the frontline of our day to day?

What Changes do we see in business?

Some examples of big and sudden changes in a small business setting could be: 

  • The sudden departure of a key staff member, for whatever reason. It does happen, and it can cause a big disruption to the daily operations of the business for some time. Sometimes, you don’t realise just how important a person is until they’re gone.
  • There is a big opportunity for expansion or growth that has turned up out of the blue, and you must act quickly to seize that opportunity, but you feel very unprepared and under-qualified for it. This is what you’ve worked so hard to achieve, but it requires a lot from you right now.
  • Maybe there’s a certain external situation out of your control that shuts down the world almost overnight. Sound familiar? How did your business find that experience?
  • A sudden breakdown of your key operational machinery could shut you down instantly. Even when it’s been well-maintained, some accident happens, and you’re looking at a big mess to clean up. It could even spell the end for you if you don’t have sufficient resources to get you through.
  • The market forces shift suddenly, and your business could be in a sudden spotlight of being the flavour of the month, or perhaps you’re left out in the cold. A dramatic change to the demand for your products or services – either positive or negative – could have a big impact on your operational capabilities. (I’m going to take this opportunity to voice my warning that the day will come when the consumer will demand nothing less than environmental sustainability from the businesses they support)

There are a lot of potential spin-off conversations from the topic of change. We could talk about contingency plans and how to prepare for the unexpected. We could talk about how to find strategies to adapt to sudden big changes. We could talk about developing a culture of agility and flexibility into your processes and policies. But I’d like to talk about the big and sudden changes that you are responsible for. Those big, tough decisions that you make, and the impact they have.

What Tough Decisions do we see in business?

Recently, my daughter’s kickboxing dojo decided to close up at the end of the year. That must have been a tough decision for the owner, the whole family had run this business for many years, and there must have been some pretty considerable forces to take into account, to have come to that decision and see it through.

You may feel it’s time to buy a new truck or a significant piece of equipment, and that decision is a big process of weighing up the risk with the potential benefit, and needing to see the result of an increase in productivity to balance out the added financial burden.

Maybe you have caught out a staff member acting very dishonestly and, surely they have to go, but the impact of that sudden departure would have a big impact on the rest of the team to pick up the slack until a replacement can be found, and so you catch yourself wondering if it really is necessary……just to spare the rest of the team from that impact.

Let’s say, you’re stuck in negotiations with a business partner or a key supplier or customer, and it could go either way. Your list of pros and cons don’t help, they only add to the indecision and uncertainty. You want this, but there’s a conflicting pressure of that, and there doesn’t seem to be an acceptable way forward. Whatever the outcome, it feels as though it’s a tough decision to make.

If we go back to that wisdom found in nature, to creatively use and respond to change, it can help you to accept change, that it’s inevitable, and that in itself can soften the blow of the decision you find yourself needing to make. Another principle adds its perspective here, design from patterns to details reminds us that we need to zoom out and see the bigger picture, to be able to get a better sense of how this decision is going to impact the overall strategy, and whether this will take you closer to or further away from your ultimate goal. There’s also the permaculture ethics of people care, earth care, and fair share, that remind us of what’s really important as we consider the impact our actions have on the people and planet around us, and not just within this company.

What if you still can't make that Tough Decision?

Maybe you’re still stuck. Getting unstuck is what coaching is all about. If we use a common coaching technique, we could unpack this situation you’re in, and see where that takes you.

  1. Remove yourself from the everyday pressures, and find a quiet, calm, and positive space to clear your head, and step away from being IN the situation to being able to see the situation from a more external point of view.
  2. Connect with your inner self, and the values that motivate you, your higher purpose, and the essence of you. Remember what really is most important to you – your priorities, and your ultimate goal. When you are 80 years old, what do you most want to be remembered and celebrated for?
  3. Now bring to mind the situation you are dealing with. What are the external boundaries of this situation that you have no control over? When faced with difficult decisions, many people wish for an option that just is not an option. It’s just not possible, so you need to get it out of your head. Recognise and write down what the external boundaries are that you cannot change.
  4. Write a list of all the things that ARE within your control, the things that you CAN do, and the various options that are available to you. Explore and discover options that you may not have seen at first. Where you have boundaries that may seem limiting, there are sometimes options available that are not restricted by those boundaries. Get creative, and brainstorm ideas, no matter how crazy it may seem at first, because it’s that creative process of going through 20, 30, 50 crazy ideas that brings you to the one that works. Get super curious. Once the creative process is done, boil it all down to a short-list of plausible options.
  5. With each plausible option, explore how it would work. Follow the chain of events and consider where will this take you? Can you make a connection between this option and your higher purpose? Will this take you closer to, or further away from your ultimate goal? Write out how that would work. Aim to make at least 20 connections.
  6. Anticipate the possible challenges and obstacles you will face. There are the external obstacles, but more importantly, go internal. What will your habits and fears and limiting beliefs do to stop this decision from working? What strategies can you put in place to overcome them, or limit their power over you?
  7. Now that you have pursued this exercise, the path before you could now be much clearer. You might be able to see very clearly what needs to be done, and so the choices you need to make become very easy to make. You will no longer doubt yourself, you will be confident, and act with sharp clarity.

This process is a powerful exercise that can unlock many hidden opportunities. In a coaching setting, this one exercise could take up the whole session. The effectiveness of this exercise depends on the familiarity you have with those first few steps, such as connecting to your inner self. The work and research and training and personal experience I’ve had with mental health, the psychology of how our brains work, and the negative pressures that I see very apparent in people all around me, tell me that having a strong connection with your inner self is not a common thing. I find that really sad. Having found a connection to my inner self, my core purpose, my essence, and being able to own my place on this earth, is a very precious thing for me. I hope to see more people find theirs.

When you consider the tough decisions you’ve made up until now, what are the prominent driving forces? Have you been motivated by fear more than inspiration? It’s very common to find that fear drives us more than we’d like to admit.

What about Tough Decisions in Relationships?

Consider the relationships with people around you. Not the friendly supportive easy relationships, but the difficult and challenging ones. Family relationships can be hard. People don’t always act the way they should. People can even act in a very damaging way, and you may find yourself needing to make some tough decisions there to protect yourself. These are sometimes the hardest because of the emotion that’s attached to the relationship. 

The connection you have with other people, whether business, personal, family or friend, is a fundamental part of human life. The key to experiencing the very best of these connections is to first establish a strong connection with yourself, and recognise the things that you need for your own fulfilment and contentment. These needs are unique for everyone, we all have our own set of needs in a certain hierarchy. When you take your needs seriously and communicate those needs in a positive and encouraging way, others will take them seriously too. It’s when you don’t stand up for your needs that no one else will take them seriously either. If you don’t fight for them, why should anyone else? 

This comes back to the tough decisions we make because having our own personal sense of identity and purpose will provide the compass for the journey that we’re on, and then those difficult decisions are easier to make. It’s when you don’t know where you’re heading that you can experience a lot of uncertainty and indecision. In a way, you could say that if you don’t know where you want to go, then it really doesn’t matter what you decide. The path you’re on is more of a loop, always coming back to the same old safe patterns of deflecting responsibility for the situation you find yourself in.

So my challenge for you today and this month is to check in with your sense of your inner self. Who are you? What’s REALLY important to you? What gives your life meaning and purpose and fulfilment? These can be scary questions to ask, because once you have that answer, the next question is: Are your actions really consistent with your values? 

We’re human. Of course we’re not always acting consistently with our values. No one can do that all the time. But are you trying to do better? That’s what really matters.

The topic of making tough decisions has brought us to a deeper focus. I can attest to the power of having this sense of personal identity and its ability to empower you to make tough decisions with confidence and clarity.

FREE Downloadable Resource!

I have developed a worksheet that guides you through the exercise described here.  CLICK HERE to get yours, and see what you can discover about yourself and the tough decisions you need to make.

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