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Making (Good) Strategic Decisions by Slowing Down

Updated: May 4, 2022



I want to share some observations on how managers and leaders make decisions. I will point out some challenges when choosing optimal solutions from available alternatives, how hybrid working practices can help professionals modulate their mental focus, and the importance of slowing down to make sound strategic decisions.

Learning to live with constant change often requires swift decisions to jump on opportunities and avoid stepping into trouble. What is the right pace of decision-making? How to strike the perfect balance between jumping to a conclusion too quickly or missing out on an opportunity?


Best-selling book author Chris Lowney points out the dangers for managers in “macho” corporate cultures that regard decisive and fast as synonyms, as well as the importance for professionals prone to “analysis paralysis” to cultivate the courage to make timely decisions.

“Bottom line? Some of us habitually go fast, precisely when we should be slowing down, and vice versa. Good analytical tools and a sound process are vital to any major decision but equally crucial is a healthy understanding of the kind of decision at hand and of one’s characteristic decision-making weaknesses.” (Lowney, 2021)

We have learned through neuroscience that our brain makes snap decisions as a survival mechanism. When we make decisions without the necessary time to weigh all variables, we resort to unconscious biases as navigational tools. Rushing can easily slip into poor decision-making because unconscious biases are stereotypes outside our conscious awareness, which we need when making strategic decisions.


Effective decision-making is a balance between quick and slow depending on circumstance and the available data. “To riff on the venerable ‘serenity prayer,’ great decision-makers need the courage to decide quickly amidst uncertainty when required; the patience to ponder slowly when appropriate; and the wisdom to understand whether any given decision requires speed or the very opposite” (Lowney, 2021)


Hybrid Working Practices


Accelerating change is not the only factor affecting decision-making. As if our lives were not fast enough, many professionals have witnessed a further increase in their daily activities due to the Covid 19 pandemic, which has impacted virtually every industry.

There is a lot of speculation on whether people are more effective working from home or at the office. Reduced commuting and fewer distractions can increase productivity, while fewer human interactions may be detrimental to the flow of ideas. Planning, organizing, leading, controlling, and balancing personal and professional life demands more than social distancing, vaccines, washing hands, and masks to prevent burnout and poor decision-making.

Overall, the pandemic shifted our working practices toward a hybrid model that involves some days at home and in the office, which become complementary mindsets to operate at our best. Flexible working practices show how each professional requires a customized modulation to perform and choose well, combining bustling office dynamics and inner silence.


In this regard, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently shared some critical findings for flexible and hybrid working practices, including focusing on outcomes rather than being ‘present’ in the office and maintaining a strong focus on employee health and well-being to avoid overworking and burnout (McCartney et al., 2022).


Calming the Mind


Some of the symptoms I have observed working alongside managers and leaders affected by ‘busyness’ include the assumption of going fast to get as much stuff done as possible. It might be counterintuitive, but sprinting does not get you places sooner when you have a lot on your plate.

Moving frantically often leads to pursuing too many goals without fully understanding their actual impact on professional and organizational growth. Tasks and decisions do not require the same amount of dedication and attention nor have the same importance in hindsight. The domino effect begins with knocking down the right piece for the others to follow, not the other way around.


Sometimes constant hurrying, holding high standards, and being a perfectionist may result from a lack of confidence and the fear of failing, creating a vicious dynamic that hinders decision-making. Like unconscious biases, fear is a protection mechanism for our survival, causing extra speed or its counterpart, procrastination. Nonetheless, fixing issues or hiring the wrong people is often more costly than allocating the right time to choose wisely from the start. Great leaders know when to hit pause.


In my experience, slowing down is not just striking the right pace by taking more time to weigh one’s options or postponing a vital decision when feeling uncertain. Good decisions require the necessary “mental distance” to evaluate issues in their complex entirety rather than obsessing on details that might not be as important as we thought they were.


Slowing down is taking a few steps back to check the colors, light, and proportions of the masterpiece we are trying to create. Slowing down entails softening the mental noise caused by constant rush, the deceptive impression of doing more while running in circles.


Stepping out of the chattering mind by walking in the park near my house is my favorite remedy when fatigue impacts my ability to make decisions. Psychological research has revealed that nature can improve our mental well-being and sharpen our cognition.


“From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” (Weir, 2020)

PITY PARTY OVER


We often have to make decisions on little data and time in business, even when we crave both. Decision-making entails balancing between pacing ourselves and seeking the settings in which our energy flows at its best.


When anxiety, fear, and stress mount, sometimes the best decision is to close our laptops, put on comfortable shoes, and step outside our homes and offices to let nature soothe our minds. By slowing down, emotions, thoughts, and intuitions might work in perfect unison to provide simple and effective solutions from unexpected places.

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Lowney, C., 2021. Make Better Decisions: Slow Down If The Lion Isn’t Coming. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrislowney/2021/01/21/make-better-decisions-slow-down-if-the-lion-isnt-coming/?sh=657c11f310f9> [Accessed 29 April 2022].


McCartney, C. et al., 2022. An update on flexible and hybrid working practices | CIPD. [online] CIPD. Available at: <https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/flexible-working/flexible-hybrid-working-practices#gref> [Accessed 29 April 2022].

Weir, K., 2020. Nurtured by nature. [online] https://www.apa.org. Available at: <https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature> [Accessed 29 April 2022].

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