Avoiding common pitfalls of decision making in business

Avoiding common pitfalls of decision making in business

Four pitfalls. Four potential pitfalls in your decision-making. If they were literal pitfalls on a treacherous jungle floor you’d probably take the time to strategise and avert course. Your company and livelihood need that attention too

In the UK, 20% of businesses fail in their first year.

Around 60% will go bust within their first three years.

Making better decisions and avoiding these pitfalls can improve your chances of survival. Beginning with a very familiar example…

Pitfall 1 – Not delegating low-risk decisions

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Depending on how tight a ship you like to run, you may like to be familiar and involved (even if only partially) with every moving part inside your team or company. Whilst this may seem like a sensible thing to do, you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin. You may want to free yourself up for the important stuff by delegating lower risk decisions.

“Delegation is often described as an art rather than a science. It is certainly a skill to be mastered and this skill means mastering the ability of ‘letting go.’”

-Chrissie Wright (Associate at the Directory of Social Change)

What can I consider to be low-risk?

The bottom line is if a bad decision is unlikely to cause significant damage in cost or reputation, then it should be considered for delegating.

You can consider something low risk if the fumble could cause catastrophe… but if there’s an equally minimal likelihood of that eventuality. An asteroid hitting your office or your company car getting a ticket.

The same of course goes for a very likely scenario, but one that doesn’t end up causing much of an inconvenience

Why should I delegate low-risk decisions?

Well, the main drawback of a superior involving themself in every small task is dependence. Employees lose the ability to move freely and operate well without having to clutter your inbox with trivial decisions. What’s more, your time may be a more expensive commodity than the task is worth.

Scale this up across a few teams and you’ve got a bottleneck, a traffic jam of tasks waiting to progress, but which need your go-ahead first.

Above everything else, you’d be stunting the growing independence of employees and departments, as well as robbing yourself of being able to spot the individuals that are already independent. Employees that you may want to be aware of in the long term for their own leadership roles. If these tasks are frequent, your end goal will be getting to a point where they can function without input from above.

Okay, I’m sold on the premise, but the threshold of “low-risk” still isn’t clear

At the beginning of a company’s life, a founder may have written blog posts and felt in their element.

Unfortunately, the blog is only a side gig as far as a company goes, so training and then directing with a loose grasp is a much more appropriate amount of time to give to this task.
The other element to this is that blogging is a very regular task. So for someone who spends the day steering the company, it makes more sense to teach and then delegate, allowing a less senior member of staff to choose what to write about.

When delegation goes wrong

The below screenshot is a very recent example of a completely hands-off approach. The social media company employed by young footballer Phil Foden totally jumped the gun by directly challenging a player in the next huge fixture.

Screenshot captured from Twitter.com

This was very embarrassing for two reasons. The challenge itself put huge pressure on Foden for the game, but it also exposed his hands-off approach on a platform that is established to be a connection place between celebrities and their fans.

A useful ground rule to establish might have been to check with Foden before posting that could be conceived as bold or controversial.

Of course, the likes of pre-match posts are often left to a social media team, but when mistakes like this slip so easily through the player’s fingers, his connection with fans looks passive and reflects terribly on the young athlete.

Pitfall 2- Asking for opinions when you should be leading

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First things first, asking for opinions is not a bad idea in general. Often, consulting a variety of people with a decision can get you a more considered result, possibly from members who work more closely than you do with the subject. Bouncing ideas off of more people is a great way to gather different experiences, sense-check your own thinking, and potentially also increase morale for your team.

When is this helpful? Well, if you want to plan a publicity stunt or conjure up a crazy way of getting a good press release, a room packed full of creativity is very welcome. An employee that was an established PR officer or journalist would be a valued panel member in that debate. They might know what publishers look for in a story or how to sell with a headline.

If I asked you why you don’t bring every decision to a broader forum you’d shudder at the thought. All that bureaucracy. For every decision. Audible groan.

But why is it so irritating? Bureaucracy certainly doesn’t sound like a sinister term. It’s the speed. It takes time to get people in a room and even more time for them all to agree.

Decisions needn’t always be dealt with by a complex solution. Sometimes option A and option B are both fairly sound, and the debate can complicate the uncomplicated. Quite often these are to do with trivial decisions like venues for work celebrations, but even with huge decisions, conflict may present more of an issue than the actual conundrum is worth.

Conflict is more likely to arise with an internal issue, and it may lead to more personal motives steering a group discussion. The easiest example would be downsizing.

A good leader isn’t always popular, in fact we know it’s quite often the opposite, because a lot of decisions that need to be made concern people inside a company. Including more people in decisions like downsizing can lead to rumours and unrest, if leaked.

Often decisions come with a burden, and there are circumstances where that burden is better contained by solitary leadership and the absence of group consultation.

Pitfall 3 – Failing to reflect on a decision before moving forward

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At face value, these pitfalls are the basics of the basics. Something you may have been told before learning joined-up handwriting. However, reminding yourself of them and knowing why they can be dangerous is pivotal in understanding these problems more meticulously.

Do you often leave time between being faced with a conundrum and having to provide an answer? You’d like to think so, but if even 1 out of 10 decisions are made on the spot when they don’t need to be, it’s good to know what you might be missing out on.

Revisiting your decision is a shortcut method of replacing peer review (when not available) and its extensive benefits. A fresh pair of eyes is preferable, but sleeping on an idea does come with similar benefits. Upon revisiting, you may not only notice any defects of your current plan but also think of alternatives while you’re away.

Turning it into a hypothetical, you might be racking your brains for which will be more effective for achieving traffic; Google ads and LinkedIn ads. Then during your lunch you realise putting the same time and resources into content marketing or backlinks could get even better results.

Why leave decisions to my subconscious?

Allowing your subconscious to be creative while you’re “off the clock” is far less stress-inducing and therefore a much more sustainable model for working in the long-term; you can push that retirement back a little bit!

Of course, the importance of reflecting on your options increases with the importance of the decision, but there are other factors. If you are self-aware then you may be able to spot poor quality in your own decisions. Alas, I’m sorry to say that there is a 12-15% chance you’re not self-aware, based on research conducted by psychologist Tasha Eurich.

There’s also a 95% chance that you think you’re an exception, so hold that grin.

In the likelihood that you are in that camp, you may be prone to cognitive biases that spoil the quality of your self-reflection, or your initial judgement.

Pitfall 4 – Falling victim to cognitive bias

Graphic by John Manoogian III

Enlarged image

Depending on what you’ve read, there are over 100 cognitive biases. A familiar example might be the halo effect, where you assume someone is great because of how they look or present themselves. Another well-known example is confirmation bias. This form of bias is where you look for information but only tend to pay attention to or believe the sources that support that theory you already had prior.

When reacting to the results of your decisions, there will be openings for these sorts of cognitive biases very often. This can be as trivial as blaming a particular employee for a product failure before knowing for sure, based on your general opinion of them.

So that’s how we might react to decisions, how do we prevent cognitive bias before decisions are made?

This can be as ingrained as having homogeneous, like-minded people in your decision-making team. Whether it’s race, class, gender or any other category that fails to consider everyone. If all exist in your customer base, it makes sense for there to be some sort of representation in decisions likely to affect them. If everyone’s background is the same, your agreement might be based on a false consensus.

Embracing technology as well as diversity is an important measure to take to ensure not alienating a workforce, and by extension, the public. If you’re too attached to reliable habits when the modern world offers convenience and innovation, many stakeholders (especially the young) will lose respect for you.

How can I shortcut this measure of avoiding a false consensus?

Solution: The Devil’s Advocate.

Touching base with all different groups is an essential start, but a way of avoiding a lot of other cognitive biases is assigning a Devil’s Advocate. Whoever is assigned to this role is responsible for being difficult.


Yep, they should literally contest every agreement and every point with the worst possible scenario. It’s not designed for torment, its purpose is forcing you to at least consider thought avenues that you’d have ordinarily skipped. For instance, deciding on a new sugary cereal might trigger the Devil’s Advocate to remind you of health guidelines and Jamie Oliver.

See, difficult.

Oh, and make sure you remember whom you’ve given this awful task to, and don’t fire them because they’ve probably done a good job.

Ride the momentum of tips and key lessons with our take on the importance of internal communication in your business!