Decisions, it seems, are getting more difficult. It is getting harder to know what to make a decision about and it seems to be getting harder to make the “right” decision. It follows that leadership and management are becoming harder competencies to master.

Even twenty years ago, life in an organization, or at home, or in the church, or social club was simpler.

One might have thought that with the easy availability of data these days on the internet and increasing global education levels, that decisions would be easier.

I can research a topic on the internet within twenty four hours and sound like I have a reasonable amount of expertise. I can provide enough data to understand the trends of an issue within a few hours. I can find the pros and cons of decisions to be made with regard to that issue, in 0.04 seconds on Google. Not only that, I can find 1,520,000,000 references.

Once upon a time, an MBA was a degree to be held in awe. Few people had them. Only the best thinkers with the best work ethics survived the high intensity training and introspection of our own values and world trends in values. Now I can take an online MBA from my choice of 79,800,000 references on Google.

So, surely decision making should be easier?

The plethora of data available today over an increasingly wide range of media is part of the problem. Whilst there is an astronomical level of choice, it is difficult to sort out from the wide range of views, what is based on opinion and what is based on fact.

Add to that the pop culture nature of business tools and processes and even data which we know to be correct is analysed poorly.

As an illustration, I have seen SWOT analysis routinely completed without the “so what” analysis. The SWOT sits in a report as a pretty slide of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, but no strategies, e.g. to use the strengths to take up the opportunities or remove the weaknesses to reduce the threats.

If and when some strategies actually do see the light of day, there are no tactics determined to implement the strategies or tasks allocated to known resources to implement the tactics. In short, all that we have is a neat set of slides and a report.

The free availability of data and of “training courses” to learn “best practice” has not made decision making any easier. However, decision making need not be that hard if a few principles are adhered to.

The first principle, before even thinking about what decisions need to be made, is to be clear about the goal of our organisation. The same applies to an individual.

Goal clarity is the most powerful help one can get in making decisions about the right things and making the right decisions. A goal must be numeric and time based. The goal must be consistent with the vision statement but it is not the vision statement. Phrases which begin with “we will be the leading provider of …….” do not suffice as a goal.

A goal must be tangible, measurable and believable and yet a stretch from where we are now. Knowing that our organisation must increase productivity by 50% in two years to prosper will lead to much greater clarity about decisions than statements about purpose.

If we have clarity about our goal, then we need to be clear about our values, or more importantly, how we want others to perceive our values to be. This is not time for the values which adorn the wall in many organisations, as they too have generally been built from the pop culture approach to business.

Ethical behaviour, honesty, integrity, and community care are too easy to write and not do anything about. If these are the values we want to be known for as a person or as an organisation then good. But if we don’t care about them we must not pretend.

What description would hurt us to our core; hurt our colleagues and shareholders if we were described that way? The opposite of this is probably our values. If we can be clear about what these values are, then difficult decisions just became easier.

Clearly, decisions must be based on the best objective data an organisation can get. The options for solutions must be pursued with imagination and drive. The risks of decisions and their attendant ramifications must be understood.

The best data from our business, our people, our industry and the internet and the best education we can get will not save us from difficult decisions if we do not know our goal and understand and live our values. Without a goal and values, all decisions are difficult.