This economy is affecting many decisions that affect budgets, personnel, and forecasting. It’s tough out there. According to the forecast released this week by the Federal Reserve, the outlook is grim and grimmer.

For those in the IT areas of an organization, making decisions has probably never been as difficult. Forces beyond the manager’s control such as credit availability and business slowdowns are impacting short-term actions. Plans for the longer term are often being put on hold by company brass who are more concerned with other issues they deem to be more pressing. When pushed for a decision, the brass may simply punt it back to the IT leader herself or himself, asking, “What do you recommend?”

Making a recommendation that will cost a lot during an economy that hasn’t yet hit bottom is daunting for anyone. However, in the IT sector particularly, it’s exceptionally tough because of the magnitude of both capital and human resource requirements. In the best situation, the CIO and other company leaders huddle together and review each department’s requests and then make the most appropriate decision for the company’s long-term health. Unfortunately, such situations rarely arise. And if other company leaders do join in, they may not be as holistic in their approach. Often they’ll be more focused on their department’s needs while the IT boss knows her/his decisions can affect the entire organization. What to do then?

Here are three tactics used by some great leaders. See if one or more can help guide your actions through this difficult economy:

1. Trust the Marines to make the right decision. The US Marines have a tool they teach upcoming leaders called the 70% solution. Simply put, if you have 70% of the information you’d like to have, have done 70% of the analysis you think is required, and feel 70% confident that you are right, then get on with it. The logic goes like this: A well-reasoned decision that’s well executed has a fair chance of success, but no action has no chance of success. And the worse decision is no decision at all.
2. Take a clue from the coaches. In every meeting, with every person, start every conversation with a question. Coaches are trained that asking questions is the best way to help another with their issues. There is nobody who is better suited to act as the company’s internal coach than the IT head who carries the best interests of the enterprise as his or her priority. When times are tough, other department leaders may be preoccupied with their own needs, putting the long-term health of the organization behind that of their own. By asking questions, you will learn the good, the bad, and the ugly – helping you to make the best decisions.
3. Trust your feelings, Luke. Whatever you call it – intuition, gut instinct, or “the Force,” you have an internal barometer that helps make decisions and take actions. You’ve used it your whole life to make everyday smaller actions and now you need to trust it to guide you in making the bigger ones. Research on the concept indicates that we make good decisions based on our education levels pertaining to the issue at hand. So, if we have more experience dealing with a particular department or activity, we make quicker decisions about it than others would. At some stage, the lines blurs between what your instincts were before and are today.

Among other things, I believe that leaders are paid to make decisions. Otherwise we could just populate entire organizations with lawyers presenting both sides of any case / problem to each other all day long.

With regard to the IT area, the department leader is most likely the best person to make those decisions. Even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. But give it a shot – you may impress yourself. And others.


Leadership Coach