Deciding how to decide

Next week people across the UK will make their decision and cast their vote in the General Election. This week, therefore, seems an opportune moment to look at decision making. Don’t be alarmed, this isn’t a party political broadcast, nor is it a self-help article to assist you in making the best decision come the 8th of June. This is a look at how decisions are made in small businesses and start-ups – politics is best left out of it.

That said, politics reveals peoples’ divergent attitudes towards decision making. Many resented the EU referendum last year on the grounds that the public did not necessarily fully appreciate the choice they were making. Issues of such gravity should be decided by politicians who have been thoroughly briefed by experts and elected to make decisions on our behalf, they argued. Others clearly enjoyed the experience of direct consultation, calling for more Scottish and EU referendums to follow the previous ones.

In short, some see decision making as a leader’s responsibility whilst others believe that fully democratic consultation is preferable. Both methods have their merits and neither is perfect. Decision making in a small business can be interesting as they have far more flexibility in how it is managed. Sole traders make sole decisions and large corporations need to have clear leadership structures, but SMEs have the freedom to decide how they decide.

Many businesses are founded by a driven, charismatic individual and, as these businesses grow, a hierarchy is organically created below this individual. Perhaps this is you – if so, you’ll probably be aware of how difficult it is to let go of control and delegate decision making responsibility. Micromanaging is a tough habit to break but delegation will be necessary at some point. The advantages of being a small, agile business can be squandered if all decisions have to filter back to one person.

There are risks within risks if a leader has a monopoly on decision making – most notably when it comes to growing your business and hiring. It is entirely plausible that a business owner, making all decisions themselves will decide to recruit people who won’t challenge their opinions. In much the same way that people’s social media bubbles and echo chambers can detach them from the real world, surrounding oneself with “yes men” or people who are happy to be instructed without offering input can detach your business strategy from where it needs to be – potentially up until a crisis point.

At the other end of the scale you can find start-ups who began as close-knit team endeavours or the work of a couple. From the outset, decision making is not the preserve of a single individual. All decisions are taken together, either unanimously or by a majority vote. This works absolutely perfectly for a start-up starting up. You can probably imagine the difficulties which arise once these businesses start to grow. When a committee becomes too large, any painting commissioned by them is likely to end up being grey.

Whether it’s a group needing to escape a committee format or a single person needing to learn to let go, small businesses need to adapt their decision making systems. The good news is they have the freedom and flexibility to be adaptable.  Who are the key people to delegate responsibility to or elect to be responsible? If you have an IT expert on board, for example, could they be given the final say regarding decisions relating to their field? There is no cookie cutter solution, but it is the ingenious systems which evolve in small businesses which make them fascinating and often game changing. If you have a story to tell about how your business has evolved and adapted to make decisions effectively and efficiently, we’d love to hear from you.

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