by CIO Staff

The Really Tough Decisions

Feb 27, 20053 mins

Making the tough decisions is never easy. Within the last two years, the majority of executives and managers say that work-life balance decisions have been the toughest for them. However, over their entire career, hiring and firing is by far at the top of the list.

In a survey over a base of 2,000 senior executives and managers conducted by NFI Research, 60 percent of respondents said that hiring and firing is the toughest decision they have had to make in their entire career.

The next toughest issues over their entire work life were changing jobs, laying off others and work-life balance decisions. Hiring/firing and changing jobs both affect significantly more managers than senior executives.

Over their careers, more managers find it more difficult than executives to deliver bad news, promote or demote, or increase others’ workload.

When it comes to the last two years, the toughest decisions for both groups have been work-life balance issues, hiring/firing and budget cuts. During this shorter term, more executives than managers have found difficulty in hiring/firing, starting or stopping something, or changing a professional service.

The bottom line is that the toughest decisions are generally personal, such as balancing work with life, or impacting others, such as hiring or firing someone.

“The toughest decisions involve life changing experiences of the people who work with you,” said one survey respondent.

“Always, the most difficult decisions are those that affect families of people that have become friends,” said another respondent. “The entire layoff process is gut wrenching, from identifying individuals, who are friends, to performing the task.”

In a layoff situation, it often is not the fault of the individuals affected but of external conditions not under an executive or manager’s control.

“Over the years the toughest decision was letting someone go, not based on their performance, but based on the firm’s condition,” said one respondent.

Said another: “People represent the only sustainable competitive advantage we have, so decisions involving them are always the most difficult.”

“We are experiencing dramatic growth, and not everybody is cut out for this kind of business, so I’ve had to replace wonderful and nice people with people who are sharp and skilled enough to get the job done,” said an executive from the skincare industry.

However, the tough decisions still have to be made and ultimately executed. “It wasn’t the decision that was difficult, it was acting on the decision,” said one respondent. “I don’t usually struggle with knowing the right thing to do; I struggle with the fallout from doing the right thing.”

A key in making tough decisions is to actually make them, rather than procrastinating and making a situation linger too long. It also involves deciding the most important tough calls that need to be made.

Tough decisions are a consistent, everyday battle within the organization. Sometimes you have to decide which battles you want to win and which you can afford to lose.

The reality is that a manager can’t lose many of the internal battles or someone else will be sent in to take over the job of making the tough decisions.