The more we choose the easier the action becomes. There are three main components to making choices:

  1. Know there is a choice to be made.
  2. Understand what’s in our control (or not).
  3. Consider the options.

Let’s take moment to clarify: there are decisions we make for ourselves, our families, and for our work. The aforementioned topics explored here apply to all types of choices; however, we’re going to focus on work-related ones in this article.

How do you get comfortable making choices?

Tasks performed in and the associated comprehensive planning that works on our business come down to a few very important things, that, if we do even marginally well, will see results. The places results will occur are: delivery, communicating about, and people buying the product. If the product is of quality and solves a customer problem, they will find a way to buy.

We’re going to look at making choices for the work in and on our business that relates the inner workings of our companywide goals and daily tasks for profit. Why profit? Because without enough money coming in to…

  • cover costs;
  • improve delivery and support; and
  • keep up with changing markets,

…we won’t have a business. The ability to make a choice can make all the difference.

Know there is a choice to be made.

The power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.” –Nicholas Black Elk

One of the easiest ways to start consciously choosing actions (and, by extension, then seeing the outcomes) is with goals. We all have dreams and ideas … in our heads. Without something concrete to reference, something that we created and can look at, it’s hard to know if what daily accomplishments move us toward or away from our ideas.

We need to make the process of choosing more real. So, we write down our dreams and ideas, and turn them into goals.

This is very real, and can be very scary. While writing this, I am having a physical response to the time I decided to make a truly important decision concerning my first company. I dropped out of college and moved halfway across the country. Though some income was coming in, I had no idea how rent was going to get paid. Yet, this was my idea. I put it on paper. I had to pacify my mother – who was freaking out that I was going to quit college – and a dad who offered a lot of advice. People whom I thought believed in me started making judgements that were a big weight to carry; I doubted myself a great deal. But I had a piece of paper on which I created this goal and what I wanted to get out of the experience.

That was 18 years ago. Four companies later (two successful, two not), here I am. And if you were a fly on my wall, there are still times you’ll hear me questioning, wondering how it’s going to happen. You’d also see me pulling out the old piece of paper with the goals, in order to make choices to move closer to them.

Write out goals.

I didn’t know any formal steps for writing goals, but I’d heard about getting ideas down on paper. Now I’ve learned a ton of different ways and steps. Even with all that … I start with sticky notes because it feels right and fits within how I work. Here’s a quick set of Google search results for some goal setting formulas.

Let’s put the focus on writing out goals for our business, otherwise known as a business plan. It’s a way to keep track of all goals existing to make the business better and still achieve the company’s mission (i.e. why the company does what it does).

Written business goals are not a set-and-forget activity. They represent our preferred direction for the company, without which our business flounders because feelings of overwhelm, fear and uncertainty take over. No true idea remains if what we are doing is the right thing.

A Harvard MBA program survey offers some compelling quantifiable reasons to write down goals. I recommend reading the full piece; here, however, is the part that corresponds to this article: a group of students was asked if they wrote down their goals, if they had goals in mind or if they had no goals. Ten years later, that group was then asked about their success:

  • Those with goals but who didn’t write them down earned twice as much than the group with no goals.
  • The group who wrote down their goals earned on average 10 times as much as the rest of the class … combined.

Without a written plan, can we reach our goals?

This study indicates the answer is NO. When taking into account business plans and business goals, plenty of us write and then place the plan in a file in a drawer and never pull it back out. That’s the equivalent of having goals and not writing them down.

With so much information, so many problems and countless opportunities, if we don’t consult the plans we made for our company … it’s the business that suffers most. A distressed business affects the ability of the company to cover costs; improve delivery and support; and keep the product competitive as markets change.

When we don’t write down business goals, the likelihood of failure dramatically increases. Lack of articulation creates difficulty in communicating why a choice has been made, and how it moves the company forward to maximize profitability while serving customers.

Understand what’s in our control (or not).

Collect information.

Information provides the most definitive path for knowing what is – and what is not – in our control to choose. We want information that helps us make a choice.

The quality and reliability of information resources matter – yet the amount of information around us is daunting. And, since we are more comfortable with people whose ideas that align with our worldview, such individuals – who have thoughts and values like our own – become a default go-to resource. Such a filter serves as a trap: belief that they have the data necessary for our decision(s).

We need contradictory sources of information; people who have different opinions. We need to know if advice is sound because of experience or theory. When effort is put into collecting information from many viewpoints, we are equipped to think through a potential choice and its outcomes. To find possible issues or unknowns that could crop up.

In the context of a business plan and short- to long-term goals, we take the information collected and apply it to our business choices. This is another way to filter information and, ultimately, use the stated goals.

Business plans allow us to:

  • Sift information and consider what supports goals for developing the business.
  • Dig for information to best serve customers.
  • Find inefficiencies in business processes and figure out how to do it differently.

Know what we want for the business.

When sticking solely with sources of information we know, we miss out … on a lot. Trusted sources of information are necessary. Variations in the types of sources are also necessary. As mentioned earlier – and I can’t stress this enough –we need people: to disagree with us; to bounce ideas off of; and to help look for missing or underdeveloped areas.

We also need research:

  • Research from people with experience which we can draw from.
  • Industry research that shows barriers to entry, expectations of customers and technology changes.
  • Customer research.
  • Research about non-customers – why they don’t use the product, or do they have a problem you can solve?

Uncommon research includes complimentary industries whose products may overlap a bit with ours, as well as the people who choose their product over ours. It also includes individuals who share our expertise and experiences but are in a different career stage or industry. Uncommon research involves exploring how other life factors (economy, technology, politics) impacts how people react.

It’s easy to justify not spending the time collecting information, asking people their experiences, and looking for information in different places. What we know is comfortable. Comfort is a trap hindering the ability to choose.

If we find ourselves saying things like: we know our customer; our situation is unique; the process works when we do it this way … then the time has come to stop and pull out the business plan, and figure out what the business needs right now. That will provide the data necessary to make a choice.

Asking questions is another avenue for better understanding the business situation, and by extension, what information is most useful for making a particular choice. And the more questions asked, the more adept the questioner becomes.

The outcome of seeking out and considering information for a specific situation provides context. We create a list of possibilities, and the quality of that knowledge plus the questions asked usually sifts out one or two best possible options.

Consider the options.

Context to understand … in our business decisions.

Start by writing down one or more goals, which will form the basis for the plan. There is no need to take a class to start this process, but if that’s your style – by all means do so, or call me.

Business goals can be written on a white board, on a mirror or window, even on a napkin. Mine are mosaic of sticky notes that reference a full written plan. The meaning and understanding of our company’s mission and the goals for this year, and three years out, are the basis for all communication. It’s at the core of which vendors make the most sense to patronize; what technologies fit the culture; and what we use to attract and keep the right talent.

Business plans align our actions (i.e. the choices we make) with the mission of the company. There is power in having and communicating a clear vision. The clearer we are, the better we understand our choices.

Greater understanding of the unknown choice or variation changes fear into confidence. Outcomes are trackable through known goals, quality information and the reason for the goals when making a choice. We can learn from not reaching a goal by making a corrective choice. Conversely, if it did work, we are ready to move on to the next choice.

The more we choose and learn from the results, the better we become at making choices. We’ll be confident in what looks good on paper versus what will work with the available skills and company resources.

Make a choice.

So, make a choice already! Whatever is facing you right now seems like a priority – but the tools exist to clarify any situation. Knowing that a choice exists to be made by writing out our goals; recognizing what’s in our control by collecting information and researching to know what we want; and considering the options have a full understanding – these three factors will inform us to whether or not this thing you are facing is really a problem.

These concepts inform about the true priority, and as a result the real impact becomes clear. This gives us a mechanism to embrace the choice (or not). To decide if it right for the business (or not). To know what is necessary to make the outcome happen. And all results come from the goals outlined in the business plan and the company mission.

Taking no action carries as much power as carrying out an action. Because, in fact, doing nothing is an action. It’s your choice.

Considering options can be daunting. Sometimes the choice feels so finite …  like once it is made, there is no going back, and if the decision wrong it will affect our reputation. That we might be a fraud; the reasons go on and on.

All those reasons revolve around handling unknowns. Understanding what’s in our control by knowing what we want (a fact sometimes hidden by comprehending what other people want) and collecting information, we can also discover what’s in our control and what remains unknown. Yet, sometimes we:

  • Get in our own way.
  • Only see the imminent bad and worse options.
  • Believe the timing is not right.

We do those things out of fear in choice-making, which comes in full force outside of the comfort zone. While the feeling won’t go away, our relationship with that fear can change.

When we write down business goals we know where we are going. That’s context added to perceiving what we want and considering all the options. Rather than making blind choices, we render active and purposeful choices.

Every choice made is a learning experience built on the choices before, and will inform the decisions we make after. The bottom line: make choices that move you closer to the business goals.

If wanting – but unable – to move forward, we can always fall back on Nicholas Black Elk’s wisdom: “The power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.”

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