I ran into an experienced, old-school IBM salesperson the other day and we talked about how she achieved all the success she racked up. In the course of our conversation, she said something intriguing to me that I’d like to pass along.
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but essentially she told me: “We believed it wasn’t as important to make the right decision as it was to make the decision turn out right.”
In other words, making a particular selection among the available courses of action wasn’t the end of the effort to succeed, but just the beginning.
Instead of focusing all their energy on finding the perfect course of action in a difficult situation, she and her team would select any sensible choice, and then take the necessary steps and put in enough effort to make that choice turn out well.
Some of the techniques she used to generate top results included:
See the Future
Few things happen without someone’s vision of what can be. The first step in making a decision work out well, therefore, is to encapsulate the future flowing from your chosen course of action in a clear mental picture of the results you want to achieve.
The more complete and specific your vision, the easier it will be to realize, and the less need you’ll encounter later on to backtrack, revise, repair, rethink, and start over.
By establishing a clear vision of the results you’re trying to produce, you give yourself a roadmap to follow, criteria for making follow-on choices, and quality standards to guide you every step of the way.
Make an Implementation Plan
With your vision as a goal, you can begin to make an implementation plan for how to get there. This plan should include a sequence of waypoints or milestones you can aim for, and initial ideas for how to reach each one.
Best implementation plans generally include supporting details on:
- Resources, both those already available and those still to acquire,
- A timeline, focused on the critical path forward and approximately how long it will take to reach each milestone,
- Key performance indicators and other metrics to help direct and measure progress toward the final result,
- Procedures for updating the plan if, as, and (almost certainly) when necessary.
Update the Plan
Just as battle plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy, “reality” tends to scramble implementation plans as you work them. That’s why a big part of your attention and effort to make your decision work out well should be devoted to obtaining feedback and monitoring activity.
With your eyes and ears open, you will begin to notice where the plan is weak or insufficient, where efforts and results are falling short, and where unforeseen problems are arising.
All these discrepancies between the plan and its actual implementation provide raw data for analysis, which can spark ideas, information, and opportunities to update and improve the current version of the plan.
Look for Easy Wins
As you work the plan, you’ll generally find that some milestones are easier to reach, some obstacles are easier to overcome, and some opportunities are more open than others.
Some parts of your plan, of course, will fall naturally into specific sequences. But others will be less linear, and may allow for narrow opportunities to make rapid progress with relatively little effort. Gather these “easy wins” whenever you can, because they will help you save time, conserve resources, and redirect efforts toward more challenging parts of the plan.
A willingness to be flexible and swerve toward easy opportunities will also help you accumulate solid successes on which you can subsequently build.
When you shift your perspective away from making the right decision and toward making the decision turn out well, you implicitly recognize and agree to do some hard-slogging through difficult moments in your work and your life en route to a successful outcome.
A few lucky people may be inspired to make the right decision and thereafter enjoy easy sailing. The vast majority of productive, successful people, however, obtain their enviable results by hard work and persistence, doing all the right things to make each of their chosen courses of action turn out the way they want.
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