On January 14, 1914, Henry Ford made a cost-cutting decision that changed the American workforce forever. Ford raised his workers’ wages to five dollars a day, which roughly doubled their income. That decision was called out as the “The Greatest Business Decision of All Time” by the editors of Fortune 2012—almost a century later! Why? That decision changed the way American business viewed employees.  Workers were no longer seen purely as an expense, but esteemed as an investment in the future prosperity of the company.[i]

Key decisions really can change the course of history and the success of communities, organizations, families and individual lives forever. Of course, not all decision have this enormous impact, but leaders make multitudes of decisions every day that directly impact employees, teams and organization. Over time, the incremental decisions can also have monumental significance.

Effective decision making is both an art and a skill.  It requires proactive identification of the right issues, appropriate levels of analysis, creative solution generation, decisive action and courageous learning. Strong decision makers weigh ethics, risk, timing and emotions, along with the logic and analytics to generate whole-brain solutions. Henry Ford paired the emotional impact that doubling income would have in employee loyalty (right brain) with the logical and analytical reality of increased company expenditure (left brain).  Whole-brain decision-making reaps the greatest benefits because it addresses all elements of problems: people, operations and strategic impact.

There are many methodologies and models for making decisions.  We summarized the key steps for effective decision making for your benefit:

Step 1: Identify the problem/question. What is the bottom line of what you’re trying to accomplish? Keep it simple so the desired outcome is clearly understood by everyone involved in the process.

 A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved. — Dorothea Brande[ii]

Step 2: Analyze the problem. Collect data, theories that stem from the data, and other insights or opinions about the possible outcomes. It is crucial to differentiate the sources of information to prevent over-weighting any single piece of information in the process.

 I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. –Leonardo da Vinci

 Step 3Generate potential solutionsWeigh the pros and cons. Consider the advantages and disadvantages while calculating the risk of each potential decision. At this stage of the decision-making process stay open to possibilities and options.

“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”  – Pythagoras

 Step 4: Decide and plan implementation. More and more often in our pace of life, we don’t have all the information necessary to make fully calculated decisions. At times, using your intuition or gut to decide and move forward is the best approach, especially when risk is moderate to low. Remember, some opportunities are constrained by time horizons and over-analysis can stifle the quantity of decisions for forward motion.

 In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do. The worst thing you can do is nothing. –Theodore Roosevelt

Step 5: Take action. Put your plan into motion by executing with excellence.

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Step 6Evaluate the solution.  Learning and continuous improvement grows by preplanning a structured review or debrief after each project or event to evaluate results, including what went well and what could be improved.

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.
–Peter Drucker

Leaders everywhere make many decisions every day, every hour, and sometimes moment by moment, so developing and deploying this skill is essential for success. Make yourself aware and familiar with your strengths and any tendencies that jeopardize sound decisions within yourself and your team. Always keep in mind that effective decision makers in organizations are like oxygen in life—indispensable for survival.  Only then are there those special moments, like that of Henry Ford, where one decision by one leader can change the world forever.





[ii] All quotes from