How to Make Complex Decisions

Hi there. If you're American, I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving and restful long weekend. If you're not, I suggest that you make friends with a U. S. of A.-er. That way, one year from now, you too can participate in a holiday where the only requirement is to eat a lot and watch football. 'Merica.

I'm clearly feeling a little snarky this morning; there still must be a little European residue leftover after our recent trip! 

Of course, the important part about Thanksgiving is the gratitude.

And because of the little break I took last week, I haven't yet made time to say thank you. Over the past month, my articles have gotten a little personal. Although I always try to link them to business, I've been a little mushy during my nostalgic November. So thank you for reading along and the compliments - both in public and private. When you take time to write to me, comment below, or share on social media, I am thankful every single time.

With that said, I want to balance my personal reflections with information that you've requested. So that brings us to today, where I want to talk to you about decision rubrics.


I know, I hear it too. It could not sound any dorkier, but hear me out.

woman at desk.jpg

Decision rubrics have become one of my most valuable tools in the office and in life. They are waaaaaaay better than pro/con lists. While pro/con lists are inherently loaded with emotion, the alternative rubric removes emotion and measures what's most important (in a weighted fashion: near and dear to my math-loving heart). Thus, you're guided through sophisticated, complex decision-making.

For example, I used decision rubrics left and right when building a business in London. They helped me make objective recommendations for establishing new partnerships in the market. That way, we didn't default to flip decisions about who to partner with, simply because someone important in the organization was buddies with so-and-so 20 years ago (#boysclub).

And on a personal level, decision rubrics have become one of my most powerful tools when evaluating impactful decisions with clients and for myself. For example, for one client figuring out the next phase of her business, we made one to evaluate what commitments and clients she should part ways with. (And I have to share this because it's so good: once she implemented the results, she decreased her working time by 40%. That's the equivalent of working only three days a week instead of five!) This process allowed her to release her emotional attachment and see the situation objectively.


    To get a little vulnerable, I made one a while ago to provide guidelines for my next career phase:

    Career Path Decision Rubric.png

    This example's content may not apply to you; what I really hope you take away is the how:


    1. Clarify your question. The example shown here is: "Should I stay at my company, go to company x, or start my own company?"

    This is obviously a drastic personal question, but it can be much more work/project-focused, like "Which service should we eliminate?" or "Which vendor is best suited for this work we need to outsource?"


    2. Decide the most important parameters by which to measure your decision, and assign them weights. The most important theme in my next work phase was being in an environment that made me feel like the best version of me. EMPLOYEE RETENTION ISN'T ROCKET SCIENCE, PEOPLE! <Ahem> I digress... :) More specifically, I wanted to learn interesting and future-looking skills, be among creative people, and work in a healthy, supportive environment that make me feel good, physically and mentally.


    3. List your options. Are you deciding among taking a job at company 1, 2, or 3? Or, like my client, are you deciding which commitments and clients are most valuable to your business?


    4. Assign a numerical value to how each option stacks up against the parameter. For example, when I was considering a new job at my own company, it was in a place where my family did not want to live, so I gave it a 1. At another company, the job was remote. And with launching my own company, I could make any location work - so these two options got 5s.


    5. Total the scores for each option. Score x weight.


    6. Most importantly <drumroll>... Notice how the results make you feel. 

    Bet you didn't see that coming with all my talk of "make it emotion-less." But this is particularly important if you're making a personal decision. Like in the above, of course I didn't resign the day that I ran these numbers. Obviously, there was more context for such a change.

    One of the greatest benefits about this approach is that it objectively tells you what the answer "should" be. However, that doesn't mean that you should do whatever the model spits out. Maybe your gut screams "Nooooooo" to the answer, and that's valuable information. 

    You've provoked a reaction, and the purpose of this exercise is to have a distanced, objective evaluation: the facts. Then, layer back in the emotions and context to make your final decision.

    Never ignore your gut. But also: challenge your gut with difficult questions.


    I'd love to hear if you've used something like this for decisions big or small.


      P.S. One more quick example: a few weeks ago, I talked to a friend about creating a rubric to decide which work trips she should attend. She has a new job that would force her to travel every week if she allowed it, but she doesn't want to and wanted help creating boundaries. I suggested doing a quick evaluation of each trip / client meeting with something like this...

      Work Travel Rubric.png

      What do you think?




      Photo by Getty Caia image/Paul Viant via Net Doctor