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5 Guidelines for Knowing When to Make an Immediate Decision or When to Wait

In recent news, Apple chief Tim Cook responded to criticism by megastar Taylor Swift within 24 hours, announcing that Apple would begin paying artists royalties on their music sales for all free introductory trials. And South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, within 24 hours of the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, took a stand and demanded that the legislature remove the Confederate flag from outside the capitol building.

Similarly, there are many times when business chiefs feel the need to make quick decisions, without the benefit of planning, research or meetings. What principles and guidelines should they use in doing so?

For Rustic Crust and American Flatbread CEO Brad Sterl, the primary factor was the well being of his employees. Early last year, the company’s New Hampshire plant burned to the ground. Sterl was on the West Coast for a food show, but he immediately boarded a plane to head back home.

“Sometimes leaders have to go by their instincts and act. In fact, that’s a hallmark of leadership.”

And on that very flight he made some snap decisions: Rustic would rebuild on the same site; he would get a temporary production facility up and running within a few weeks; and not only would he continue to pay his employees during the transition, he would forego the huge temptation to automate his new operation and eliminate the jobs of most of his 100-person workforce.

“You know, paying one hundred thousand dollars a week in payroll sounds like a lot of money,” Sterl said at the groundbreaking for the new facility last fall. “In the scheme of losing those people or having those people be distressed in the process and not be ready when you’re ready for them, you can’t think of what that cost is.”

Here are 5 principles that CEOs and company owners are using to making immediate decisions.

1. Accept that it’s okay to do so. Sometimes making quick and bold decisions must begin with a CEO’s accepting the necessity for such a move—and, as the leader, that he or she is the person who’s got to do the difficult thing, and do it quickly.

“The most important point is to make the swift decision as opposed to engaging in a lengthy deliberation of who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Mark Stevens, head of management consultancy MSCO. “Sometimes leaders have to go by their instincts and act. In fact, that’s a hallmark of leadership.”

2. Make sure you’re on your game. While circumstances may demand an answer, experts caution that CEOs must ensure they’ve got mental clarity when making an important snap decision.

“When fatigued, overly anxious, too risk averse or too close to the problem, it is possible for an otherwise very capable leader to default to the easy way out, stick to the status quo, and avoid making the right decision,” said business consultant and psychologist Josh Davis.

3. Look for win-win opportunities. Sometimes CEOs can make snap decisions proactively rather than be forced to do so by circumstances. Finding opportunities to create major wins for your company as well as a business partner can be the perfect time for a quick decision.

Arvind Sarin, founder and CEO of Copper Mobile, for instance, suddenly got an urgent plea from the company’s latest customer, Phone.com, to create an Android version of the new product that was making excellent profits for them on iOS. Usually that takes two to three weeks. But instead, Sarin telescoped the process to just one week by redeploying Copper’s top software architect within a few days, giving both a major client and his own company a big victory that otherwise likely would have been sacrificed in the fast-moving telecom business.

4. Anticipate and be as prepared as possible. Having a plan for any scenario can prepare a CEO to be in the optimum position to make quick decisions when they come up. That’s the approach taken by HourlyNerd CEO Pat Petitti.

“My executive team regularly discusses the challenges that are seemingly a year or two out, and we have a stance on many of the issues  we might one day face,” Petitti said. “That gives me some sense for what sorts of decisions we’d make if something came up. While you can’t prepare for every potential issue, you can likely anticipate most.”

5. Take a composing pause. Unless you’re in a crisis situation, there is always a few minutes that can be taken to think things through, advised Petitti and others. “Taking a few moments to collect your thoughts can be tremendously helpful,” he advised. “When the stakes are high, you owe it to yourself to build in time to reflect, talk it through with your colleagues,” and make sure your impulsive decision is the right one.

This advice can help CEOs turn the often-stressful circumstances around a quick decision into a moment that not only addresses an immediate demand but also can redefine a company and the CEO’s tenure in myriad positive ways.

 

About Dale Buss

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.