Making policy requires clear thinking and the ability to recognize limits


April 29, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

Malynda Madzel walks her way through decisions, literally.

It took at least five walks for the Columbia entrepreneur, 'N president of Custom Telemarketing Services Inc., to finally decide to hire an outside salesperson to increase the small company's revenue.

"I was a little gun-shy. Until now, I've done all the outside sales work myself and I'm reluctant to relinquish control. I knew that the new person would have to be paid well and would need at least a month to be productive. But I also knew we needed an outside salesperson to make the company grow," says Ms. Madzel, whose company specializes in business-to-business phone work.

Like many entrepreneurs, Ms. Madzel has focused much of her attention on the art of decision-making.

She has learned to compensate for her own limitations by turning to advisers for a different perspective. She has learned when to backtrack on a bad decision. And she's learned that a little fresh air can help her think more clearly.

Walking around a neighborhood near her Columbia home, Ms. Madzel and her husband, Richard, a Motorola-Codex sales executive, spent many hours last winter debating the pros and the cons of her hiring a sales representative. By talking while they walked, they avoided the background noise and interruptions that would have distracted them at home or in an office setting.

Ms. Madzel also consulted Ann Malone, Custom Telemarketing's general manager, in deciding whether to hire a salesperson.

"Ann is my right hand, left hand, arm, feet -- everything," Ms. Madzel says of the general manager. "She's the guts of the organization -- has a good, solid business sense and is more hard-headed than I am."

"I'm very good at reading people," Ms. Madzel says. "I go with my gut reactions and intuition. Most of the time, my intuition is correct. However, you can't always go on intuition in business. For example, you can't decide not to do business with a client just because you don't like him. You can't afford to let personal preferences get in your way."

Ms. Madzel and others who have pondered the decision-making process offer these pointers:

* Use a systematic method for making major business decisions.

Lynn Litow, a consultant with the Marlin Group, a management consulting firm based in Linthicum, says that decision-making is like problem-solving. A step-by-step method can expedite the process.

As an initial step, identify the problem or issue related to the decision, she recommends. Then make a checklist of information you'll need to fully consider the pros and cons of each option. Review the information and set a deadline for making your decision.

The checklist is important if you're prone to rash or impulsive decisions, Ms. Litow says.

* Surround yourself with people who see things differently than you do.

"Too often entrepreneurs think they have to do it all and know it all themselves," Ms. Madzel says. Yet by surrounding yourself solely with people who see things your way, you miss the chance to gain fresh perspectives on your business decisions.

"If you tend, for example, to go on impulse and intuition, then surround yourself with cooler heads than yours," Ms. Madzel recommends.

* Don't include more people in the decision-making process than really need be included.

Some managers are so caught up in the notion of gaining consensus from their troops that they involve more people in making a decision than need really be involved, says Peter Postorino, a Hunt Valley consultant and former head of training and development for Maryland National Bank.

Suppose that a company must make a decision involving its manufacturing process. It may be that people in the factory should get involved in the selection of a new piece of equipment. But why involve the sales staff as well?, Mr. Postorino asks. To be expeditious, take input only from those directly affected by the decision, Mr. Postorino advises. "Otherwise, it can take a hell of a lot of time to reach agreement and consensus."

* Be aware of emotional barriers that may be keeping you from making the right decisions.

Managers often shrink from a decision because they fear taking a risk or offending other people, Ms. Litow observes. They may ZTC be unsure of their ability to carry out the decision. Or value conflicts may make it hard for managers to do what they know is right for the business.

Take the decision to fire a subordinate, for example. The manager may know very well that the employee's work is substandard and a drag on the organization. Yet the manager's values could cause him to feel guilty about letting a longtime employee go.

"Lots of us are uncomfortable when we've got to fire somebody and [we] put off these decisions until they're absolutely unbearable. And at that point, we're not able to provide the support we'd like for the fired person," Ms. Litow says.

The point is to take emotions into account as factors affecting the decision-making process.

* Check any decision you make against your strategic goals.

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