Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Priorities for Tough Decisions

Tough decisions, by their nature, involve difficult tradeoffs. I’ve found that defining a framework of priorities up front, before being confronted with a tough decision, can make the decision-making task much easier. Brian Valentine, then a Senior Vice President at Microsoft and now at Amazon, taught me a priorities framework that has worked very well for me in the corporate world.

First priority is the Business. In the end, every decision needs to map to the success of the business.

Next priority is your Customers. All of your decisions should be in the best interest of your customers, unless it is in direct conflict with the success of your business. For instance, you probably wouldn’t sell a product at a loss – it may make your customer happy, but it’s not good for the business.

Next priority is the Product or Service you are selling. Your decision should ensure the success of what you are selling, but not at the expense of the customer or the business. For instance you may be selling a service that you want to be successful. However, if the service is a distraction from the success of your business or isn’t in the best interest of your customers, it shouldn’t be pursued.

Next priority is your Team. Your decision should keep your team happy, motivated and productive, unless it is damaging to your product, customers or business. For instance, you may need your team to work long hours to develop a product. It may not be what the team would like to be doing with their spare time, but it’s the right thing for your customers and business.

Final priority is your Self. If you focus on the other priorities first, success will come naturally. If you focus first on yourself, you are likely to hurt your team, your customers and your business – depriving yourself of the success you wanted.

Tip: Be careful not to do overdue it, keep long term consequences in mind when you make your decision. For instance, a few weeks of long hours may be a good tradeoff for a successful product launch, but a year of long hours may hurt your team badly enough that it will impact your customers and your business in the long run.

I think it’s beneficial to build a set of priorities for your personal, financial, emotional and spiritual life as well. As soon as I acknowledged that tough decisions require tradeoffs between various areas of my life that I care about, it was clear to me that I should build a priorities framework that mapped to my values and life circumstances. Once I had this framework in place I’ve found that I can make more consistent decisions that align with what I care about most.

How would you list your priorities?

What’s more important:

  • Career or family?
  • Emotional comfort or thrilling risks?
  • Material success or physical well being?
  • Connection with others or time alone?

Do the decisions you make support these priorities?

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