September 23, 2020

The Rules of Good Decisions: How to Make the Right Call Every Time


Over the last six months, HR pros have found themselves sucked into the pandemic’s
“Coronado,” and now they’re desperately trying to find solid ground in an ever-changing corporate landscape. Do we furlough? Can we avoid a reduction in force? How can we support a remote workforce? How do we keep employees safe when they return?

So many difficult decisions being made under pressure and within constrained time frames can be a recipe for disaster. How do we make the right choices in a bad situation?

Personally, I found my answer to that question in a cup of coffee.

Navigating the Decision Supply Chain

I love coffee. It’s my beverage of choice. The smell of the beans, the gurgling sound of it brewing, the deep caramel color, that first sip in which I try to pick out the subtleties of its heritage. It borders on an obsession.

Over the years, I have learned that I need to honor three specific rules if I want to have a consistently good cup of coffee:

  1. I need to know the coffee’s origin. Where were the beans harvested? I prefer beans from certain areas of the world.
  2. I need to know the coffee was ethically sourced and thoughtfully produced. The coffee industry is notorious for using slave labor to harvest its product. I need my coffee to come from an organization that invests in some of the poorest parts of the world (where coffee is often harvested) and provides a living wage for workers. I also want to know that the coffee roaster cares for those beans like their own children, giving them everything they need to achieve their full potential. (I told you I have a problem.)
  3. I need to respect my mood. If I’m upset or angry, even the best cup of coffee will taste bitter. I will pick it apart and call out every fault before I judgingly pour it down the sink.

If I can honor these three criteria, I have the best chance of enjoying a good cup of coffee.

I was discussing my coffee rules with a friend, who quipped that if I go through all that for a good cup of coffee, what must I go through to make a good decision? And thus, the seed was planted.

As someone who studies, speaks on, and writes about human behavior, I naturally started down a rabbit hole of research into what makes decisions good how to consistently make them so. To my surprise, my coffee rules are eerily aligned with what my research on choices revealed.

If you follow what I call the “decision supply chain,” your choices will be good every time and anxiety-free progress will be only a decision away. To make a good decision, we must do three things:

  1. Account for our core values (our nonnegotiables)
  2. Consider all the facts
  3. Honor our feelings in the moment

1. Account for Our Core Values

If we are being honest, most of us have no idea what our nonnegotiables are. We might have an idea of what we consider important, but if push came to shove, many of us would be hard-pressed to name our specific core values. I refer to these deeply held personal core values as our “Black Sheep Values.” They are values that simply will not be influenced or changed by outside forces, like a black sheep’s wool.

If we haven’t discovered our nonnegotiables, how are we supposed to align with our company’s values? Even if an organization’s values are written in stone, you can’t align with the broader company vision if all you have to go on is your constantly changing personal list of what matters to you.

We must define our nonnegotiables before we can begin the decision supply chain. There are several great resources to help you identify your core values, including Life Values Inventory and an online assessment I developed to help people find their Black Sheep Values.

2. Consider All the Facts

Once we have discovered what truly matters most to us and how to use those values to amplify the organizational mission, we can begin to gather the information we need to make a decision — in the words of the legendary Sgt. Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Unfortunately, we are living in a Google search world where “facts” have somehow become subjective.

Sometimes the truth in the room is a limited one. I relate it to searching for houses on a real estate app: If you narrow your search to an overly restrictive set of parameters, your results will be confined and your perception of what’s possible will be skewed. If you expand your search, even by a short distance, the results can change remarkably. This is why the second part of the decision supply chain is paramount. We need to consider all the facts, not just the facts in the room. Facts can exist beyond any limits you might set for them. Open up your search to find the real truth.

3. Honor Our Feelings in the Moment

Finally, if our decisions aren’t based on our Black Sheep Values, then what are they based on? I’ll take F-words for $1,000, Alex.

No, not that word, you filthy sailor. I’m talking about feelings.

The last step of the decision supply chain — honoring our feelings in the moment —challenges the level of our commitment to any decision. Our feelings play an important role in the process. If we make a decision without acknowledging what we’re feeling about our choice at that moment, we’ll make Hulk angry. Hulk no like angry.

To stay committed to a decision, we have to look at the tug of war between values and feelings. If we make decisions solely on our Black Sheep Values but ignore our feelings, we can easily be swayed by powerful unacknowledged emotions. On the flip side, if we choose a course of action solely according to out feelings and ignore our values, the possibility of violating the values we hold most dear will threaten our commitment.

You don’t want your feelings to be the sole driver of your decisions, and you don’t want to ignore your values. So who should win the tug of war? The answer, it might surprise you to learn, is neither.

We need to keep a healthy tension between our values and our feelings. Our feelings like to push us into the future to party with uncertainty and doubt, the troublemakers. We get caught up in the Land of What Ifs and Could Bes and project possible outcomes that fuel our insecurities. The values we have developed over the course of our lives should serve as anchors that prevent us from being pulled off balance and help us stay in the present.

If you want to give yourself the best opportunity to make a good decision, you need to be in the present. A healthy tension between your values and your feelings allows you to do that.

Brant Menswar is a top motivational speaker, critically acclaimed author, award-winning musician, podcast host, and the CEO and founder of Rock Star Impact. He is the author of Black Sheep: Unleash the Extraordinary, Awe-Inspiring, Undiscovered You.

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Brant Menswar is one of the country's "Top 10 Motivational Speakers"; a critically acclaimed author; award-winning musician; podcast host; and the CEO and founder of Rock Star Impact, a boutique agency that teaches people and organizations how to cultivate values-based leadership. His innovative work has changed what is possible for industry-leading organizations like Netflix, Verizon, SunTrust, Microsoft, ESPN, Hilton, Sony Pictures, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and dozens more. Passionate, engaging, and transformational, Brant encourages audiences to discover their "Black Sheep Values" and move forward with deliberate intention. His interactive and entertaining techniques for defining what matters most compel audiences to dive deeper into their lives and start living on purpose.