Small Business Trends

3 Crucial Skills for Decision-Making That Could Save Your Business

Published by in Small Business Trends

Effective decision-making can make or break your business in a crisis. Develop these three skills to face a crisis with confidence.

crucial skills for decision making header image

Anyone can successfully run a business when everything is going right.

It’s when things start to go wrong that true leaders reveal themselves—and when they become most valuable to their organizations.

It’s safe to say that things haven’t exactly gone smoothly so far in 2020, and we’re not out of the woods yet. Navigating the next few months will be a challenge for any business but will also present an opportunity for the best leaders to patch up vulnerabilities and ensure survival through current and future crises.

Here are the three most important skills for decision-making in the midst of an emergency.

Skill #1: Standardizing clear and consistent communication

Poor communication can tank an organization during prosperous times, so if your team stops communicating when a crisis hits, you might as well just close up shop. The best decisions are made when all voices have been heard.

Don’t let office closures and a forced transition to remote work get in your way—the technology is available to effectively communicate with your team from afar.

But it isn’t enough to set up a collaboration tool and expect regular conversations to carry themselves. You need to set the standard for clear and consistent communication by making yourself visible on your team collaboration tool, making it easy for your employees to get in touch with you through multiple channels, and starting the conversations that need to be started rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Good communication is perhaps the most important leadership skill you need to guide your organization through a crisis, because every good decision starts with good communication.

 HOW TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:  Set the standard for good communication by leading conversations and always making yourself available. If you bury yourself in a dark room and try to make difficult decisions on your own, your team will likely go silent as well, leading to further confusion and uncertainty. If you lead the conversation calmly and confidently from the start, your team will follow suit and you can work together to problem solve.

Skill #2: Allowing empathy to guide you

It’s easy to say that your business cares about people when things are going well, but you’ll likely have to make some difficult decisions—such as layoffs or increasing your prices to make up for lost income—during times of crisis.

No one would suggest that you should recklessly expand your business in the middle of a crisis, but the leaders who learn to place the highest value on the employees and customers that they’ve already earned will best position their business for survival.

This isn’t just the ethical thing to do: it makes good business sense.

After all, acquiring new customers is an inherently uncertain venture. Gartner research suggests that businesses—especially those that rely on subscriptions—“must rely on customer retention and the expansion of existing relationships to grow their business” (full report available to clients).

It’s perhaps even more daunting to hire a new employee over retaining one who has already been trained. It can cost thousands of dollars and months of time to get a new employee up to speed. In other words, the customers and employees that you already have are among your most valuable assets.

Still, if your organization is struggling to stay afloat during a crisis, you’ll have to make tough decisions. This could mean instituting a hiring freeze or cutting bonuses and other perks before turning to layoffs, or shifting spend from new customer marketing campaigns to customer retention efforts.

But if you’ve already shown your organization that you always make every effort to put people first and you are guided by empathy, they will be much more understanding when you have to make a painful decision.

 HOW TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:  Anytime you are facing a difficult decision, ask yourself “How will this decision affect our employees and our customers?” before you ask yourself “How will this decision affect our bottom line?” Write your responses down on a wall chart to help visualize the impact. This way, if you do have to make a difficult choice, you’ll be doing so with full perspective.

Skill #3: Showing restraint and patience

Some leaders will be tempted to try to solve all the problems that come with a crisis overnight. But that is a recipe for burnout and hasty mistakes. A much better approach is to weather the storm for as long as possible and gain the benefit of perspective that comes with time: A short-term fix can result in bigger problems in the long run.

For example, if your organization is struggling through this period of remote work, your first thought shouldn’t be to take remote work permanently off the table after things settle. It’s not that your teams couldn’t handle it, or that your business isn’t set up for it—it may just mean that you need to better equip your team to work remotely after the crisis has passed.

For a patient leader, this can be a stress test that helps you identify gaps that your organization needs to fill to stay competitive in a post COVID-19 market. In fact, according to Gartner research, 74% of organizations plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19:

chart showing that 74 percent of companies will be making some workers permanently remote

(Full report available to Gartner clients)

The awareness that you’re in the middle of a crisis should inform and temper your decision-making. If you lay off 90% of your sales staff now because sales are down, you may be setting up a new crisis when things pick back up and you need salespeople.

Taking a wait-and-see approach on decisions when you can afford the extra time could set your business apart from those that overreact in the moment.

 HOW TO DEVELOP THIS SKILL:  Only make decisions if you’re reasonably sure it is the right decision, or if you can’t afford any more time (in which case you should use empathy and the wisdom of your team to make the best decision possible). To avoid waiting too long to make the right decision, establish cash flow thresholds with your leadership team. These will trigger when certain difficult decisions (layoffs, credit borrowing, etc.) need to be made.

Preparedness prevents panic

We can all make better decisions by thinking calmly, and it’s easier to be calm when you’re prepared. Here are some more resources from our Coronavirus Resource Center to help you get there:

About the Author

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad is a senior content writer at Capterra, covering business intelligence, retail, and construction, among other markets. As a seven-time award winner in the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. and Suburban Newspapers of America editorial contests, Andrew’s work has been featured in the Baltimore Sun and PSFK. He lives in Austin with his wife, son, and their rescue dog, Piper.


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