By Heather Burgess, Simpactful Senior Partner (and Basketball Mom)
There is nothing quite like a major crisis – or windfall – to remind us of the importance of knowing how to make decisions effectively and how to teach others these same skills. The past two years of pandemic mayhem, supply chain chaos, and economic uncertainty have put most of us to the test. At Simpactful, I have had the opportunity to help our clients weigh difficult decisions – from whether to enter a channel and where to focus trade funds to which retailer to pursue first for B&M (brick & mortar) distribution and where to focus Marketing investment.
However, it is my side hustle as “basketball mom” that has recently pushed me the hardest to both practice and teach the art of effective decision-making using the lessons learned in my corporate career. A year ago, my now 6’11” son, Raleigh, had not played more than a few minutes in a high school varsity game. But, following a great AAU (club basketball) season, he has accumulated 19 full-ride Division 1 scholarship offers. The process has moved much faster than we anticipated, and over the next year, Raleigh will need to make exciting decisions – ones that could determine whether he makes it to an NCAA playoff, enters the draft, or even graduates with a BA and MBA in 4 years.
The first thing most people ask him is, “How on earth are you going to choose between 19 offers?” Until I sat down and tried to lay out a decision-making process for Raleigh, I didn’t appreciate the tips I picked up at P&G, Amazon, and Simpactful. Below are eight time-tested decision-making strategies that can simplify major decisions and help you feel empowered vs overwhelmed:
- (Really) know your business. At P&G, I knew the business model and players just well enough to fill in knowledge gaps, which created more risk than I realized at the time. Leaving P&G for Amazon and then making the leap into consulting forced me to learn new businesses fast, to tap into my network and to research information as-needed. Clients often hire Simpactful not only for our functional expertise, but because we help them identify their own blind spots. As Raleigh’s potential became clear last year, we hit a rough patch. He was 14 and just wanted to play his heart out, but I quickly realized that I needed to treat collegiate basketball like any other business. I identified four trusted mentors who taught us the ins and outs of collegiate basketball, the recruiting process and the play-makers. We poured over information and asked a million questions so that Raleigh and I could begin to read the signals, ask the right questions and build the necessary relationships.
- Start with a vision and a goal. Occasionally, decisions will catch us off guard. However, this is rare, and it helps to define success headed into any major decision. Most clients begin with a clear goal, such as securing profitable distribution in one major B&M retailer, nailing down a JBP (Joint Business Plan) with a retailer or investor or doubling the size of their e-Commerce business. In the case of Raleigh, we needed to outline his life goals (at the age of 15) to provide ourselves and those helping us with a north star for success. We drew up some principles and a list of dream schools while he clocked some driving hours for his learner’s permit. That list is still in my phone, and I look at it every now and again in simple disbelief.
- Don’t make a decision until you have a decision to make. At P&G, we adopted the practice of Lean Innovation, which taught me the art of focusing on the most important question at hand to 1) conserve limited time or resources, 2) prevent decision paralysis, and 3) ensure the right data is available to avoid premature decisions or rework. It has been a helpful framework that I have used numerous times with Simpactful clients – and now, with basketball.
- Establish KPI’s to minimize bias – 95% of human decisions are made using intuition. Research has shown that our innate biases kick in whether we are buying beer or choosing a heart surgeon –biases that can cause us to overlook key decision criteria. People are often surprised to hear that Raleigh and I built an Excel decision framework with weighted decision factors, and we are now populating the grid with information on each school. We use this approach regularly at Simpactful to guide clients in their decision-making analysis. The approach is helping Raleigh break the big decision into smaller tasks, while also allowing him to start to see the bigger picture.
- Know that KPI’s may not be numeric. In business and basketball, decisions can be tipped in one direction or the other by things that are difficult to measure. Trust in a partner, chemistry with a team, coach or manager, aesthetic preference for package graphics – or how one’s mother looks in the team colors (kidding, of course) can all matter!
- Practice patience. We will occasionally be forced into a fast decision. However, the best leaders I worked for bought themselves time until the necessary decision data was at hand. They used contingency planning, and throw-away schedules to manage the risks and rewards of waiting until key decision information became available. It’s natural to wonder when Raleigh will make his decision. While it would be nice to have our weekends back, the reality is that many of his decision factors will be up in the air well into next spring, thanks to the Transfer Portal and evolving NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) landscape. Making a decision too soon could create a mess, a position we steer our clients away from as we use established processes at Simpactful.
- Deselect before you select. Too much choice is a bad thing. While our matrix isn’t super sexy, one of the benefits of a clear decision framework is that it can help you deselect options. With a recent Simpactful client seeking B&M distribution, we ruled out retailers because of strategic fit and a Private Equity conflict of interest. Raleigh is quickly realizing he will need to balance a rigorous junior year academic schedule with school visits and basketball demands. Eliminating options will enable him and the coaches to focus where there is high potential for a match.
- How you deliver the decision is as important as the decision. Consider the stakeholders and how you deliver the message to build trust. In business and basketball, the world is small. Paths cross and recross. Spend extra time considering how you will deliver the message
The good news is that Raleigh’s odds of making a great decision are nearly 100%. However, this is a great opportunity to jump-start on one of the most critical management skills he’ll need in business or wherever he lands! Simpactful is a CPG & Retail consultancy staffed with experienced Brand and Retail practitioners from “both sides of the desk” who are skilled in breaking down complex problems and providing practical solutions. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-234-6394.