Cultivate a Sense of Decisiveness

July 1, 2010
A strong sense of decisiveness makes for fine leadership.

President George W. Bush was famous for calling himself “The Decider.” He was right. The chief executive in any organization has the final say in any major decision. CEOs are often hired on the strength of their past record for making the right decisions.

In a collision center, the owner or manager must make many decisions on any given day that can affect the profitability of the shop. Should I buy this new state-of-the-art equipment now, or should I wait to see if it really works as promised? Should I wait to see if a more advanced version comes out soon? Should I hire this guy to be my new production manager? Can I trust his résumé and references? Many decisions commit a shop to major expenses, so a leader can’t afford to make very many wrong important decisions.

Today’s business world is a high-speed race, demanding many split-second decisions. Rapid, accurate decision-making is crucial to success.

In today’s high speed and risky economy, making business decisions is a lot like driving a race car: Split-second decisions determine winning or losing. Like the race car driver who must anticipate the condition of the track ahead and the moves of the other drivers, the shop owner has to anticipate changes in the economy and the moves of the competition. The speed of decision-making can similarly determine whether or not the decision was the right one. Deciding too late can mean a missed opportunity. Deciding too soon before key factors are taken into consideration can lock the shop into a losing situation.

Three Wrongs

The worst such situation I can recall concerned a shop owner who was about to get married. He was planning a two-month honeymoon to Europe and was looking for a competent manager to run the shop while he was gone. On the strength of a friend’s recommendation, he hired a young guy who seemed to have the necessary knowledge and experience. Off went the newlyweds to Europe to enjoy a spectacular honeymoon. You may have already guessed the outcome.

When he returned, he found stacks of unpaid parts invoices. His vendors were no longer willing to sell to him. Furthermore, he lost the two major DRPs on which his shop depended for most of his work. His new manager had disappeared two days before he returned from Europe with the funds that hadn’t been paid to vendors for parts. The owner tried to recover, but it was too late. The shop folded within a few months. And his new bride quickly disappeared too, when she discovered his source of income had vanished. A few additional phone calls could have told him this was the wrong guy for the job, but he foolishly trusted one recommendation.

At the other extreme, another shop owner had a rare opportunity to buy a shop whose owner had just died, leaving a sole heir who wanted to sell quickly. The shop sat in the middle of half a dozen major dealerships, most of which provided steady work to the shop. Unfortunately the shop owner lost this amazingly good deal because he was incapable of making a speedy decision. His usual approach was to consult his key vendors, several family members and his pastor before making any major decision. Even then, he generally delayed before deciding. Needless to say, one of the nearby dealerships took the opportunity to grow their business before this repairer could make his decision.

Yet anther missed opportunity: A repair shop had the chance to partner with an accessory shop that had been referring collision repair jobs to a body shop which had gone out of business. The economy was just starting to decline, and the accessory shop owner told me if business didn’t pick up, he might have to close because he couldn’t afford his rent, which was not particularly high. I suggested to a nearby body shop owner that this would be a great opportunity to pay some insignificant rent, get the referrals, and add a sign promoting his shop along with the accessory shop sign. This shop owner had a strong reluctance to partner with anyone, but said he might look into the opportunity. It never happened; the last time I passed the accessory shop, it had closed.

How to Get it Right

Today’s business world is a high-speed race, demanding many split-second decisions. Rapid, accurate decision-making is crucial to success. Decisiveness plays a role, too, as it does in intelligence tests. An effective test-taker, for instance, quickly decides whether a question can be answered. If there is any doubt, the question is skipped, giving the test-taker additional time for questions that can be answered.

But business is not a test: Major decisions can’t be skipped, especially when they are complex and require input from reliable sources. In fact, many decisions must be made with limited information. And that’s when you need your inner race car driver to tell you whether a “yes” decision is worth the risk.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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