Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Decision Paralysis

When you think you’re screwed either way! 

By Simone Jo Moore


You have little time, your boss is away and your staff and other resources are stretched to breaking point.  In order to maintain external customer commitments, you need to take a decision against a long-term senior manager. Either way the proverbial looks like it’s going to bury you. What do you do?

Just like armchair umpires it's easy to say – whatever’s right for the customer.  But just to complicate it, this manager is a customer too. He pays toward two of your staff to handle his client support calls knowing the primary support function takes precedence. However his workload demand is rising dramatically and impinging badly on your external customers’ needs.

When you are young, new to the role and the senior is happy to use stand over tactics, it’s very easy to diffuse the situation by giving in to their threats. Good, bad or indifferent, a decision must be made as the status quo cannot stand as is. You weigh up the many consequences
(personal and business).  If the expected return is way below the effort then it's an easy decision and if it's way more than expected then that's also a no-brainer.  The trickiest time is the difficult and sometimes paralysing procrastination point of 'oh, I’m screwed either way...' scenario.  Sometimes you need to take a chance on the ‘what if...’ and ‘maybe if I …’.

Intuition or inductive reasoning is commonly ignored yet with hindsight often proved correct - that time when you slap your forehead in a 'duh' moment because you should have known! I've used in good stead my father's old saying, "'if in doubt don't" and the accompanying lesson that it's not about fear (our biggest nay-sayer). It's basing your decision on a calculated risk combined with your experience and gut feel of what is right. Emotions influence and guide our thinking and behaviour—what we think, how we think, how we make decisions and how we act on them.

Today, we call it Critical Thinking but that's just a way of saying that our logical mind needs to be balanced with our creative mind.  Both active and empathic listening is needed, not just to others but to our own internal dialogue. The way we obtain, process information and thereby action knowledge is a wide field of study but on a practical level, we need technique to help us make decisions. 

If you can name me at least one problem solving technique in this moment, then you've already made a start to critical thinking. Here's just a few more to investigate that have both ITSM and cognitive thinking aspects:
Now you're on your way to building a toolbox and please share some of your favourites.

Oh, and the proverbial? Well a scathing email about my decision and management of the situation was sent to my manager and, for whatever reason, the senior person had CC'd me. I think it was a scare tactic but instead it was well used in removing any doubt about my decision to reduce resource effort back to the original demarcation line and advise him of the available options - more money for more staff or use another support desk – a gutsy play!  Each and every point made in that email was shrewdly rebuffed with the facts and figures that showed sound inductive and deductive reasoning for the decision.  I received my manager's full support, I didn't get fired and a new, realistic support contract was negotiated.

And all lived happily ever after (mostly)!

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