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What does a good decision look like?

Don’t get caught flat-footed when important choices emerge on your operation.

By some accounts, the average American makes nearly 35,000 “remotely conscious” decisions per day. The bulk of these have nearly zero consequence – from what shirt you to wear today to whether or not to add ketchup to your cheeseburger at lunch. But Iowa farmer and consultant Chris Barron, speaking at the 2020 Farm Futures Business Summit, says a handful of decisions should command your active attention each day.

“On average, there are five decisions a day that affect our bottom line,” he says.

Some of these decisions will be glaringly obvious in their importance. At the same time, don’t ignore small decisions that could spiral out of control if ignored. Barron recounts a recent flight he was on that had to abruptly turn around for an emergency landing because a gas cap had inadvertently been left off, and the airplane was leaking fuel.

“Think about those seemingly small details that could become catastrophic if left unchecked,” he says.

So, what are the ingredients that go into making a good decision? Barron outlined eight components to Business Summit attendees:

1. Determine who is accountable for the decision. “It might be you, or it might be someone else in the operation,” he notes. If it’s someone else – an employee who’s mechanically inclined, for example – make sure they know they’re accountable and allowed to make decisions regarding machinery repairs.

2. Make the decision specific and measurable. If the decision has a timetable or deadline, even better.

3. Narrow the target.

4. Don’t wait for 100% of the information. “Many of our decisions may be made with just 40% of the information,” Barron says. “It can be hard to get all of the data.”

5. Manage emotions and bias. Have you ever had a position on the markets that turned out to be wrong, but you still didn’t do anything about it? That’s because emotions can easily cloud the situation, Barron says: “Because you’re emotional about it, you don’t want to change.”

6. Take your time to be in the right frame of mind. Are you tired or fatigued? Can the decision realistically wait to be made until the next day? Sleep on it.

7. Beware of consensus. Consensus isn’t inherently a bad thing, but if everyone in your operation feels like they’re obligated to agree with you, that makes it harder to make good decisions.

8. Evaluate decisions after they’re made. Debrief afterwards, not unlike soldiers do after a mission.

But with thousands of potential decisions swirling around your head each day, how can you prioritize which ones to actively pursue? Barron recommends that farmers write down the top three or five issues currently affecting their operation.

“The key is to prioritize them once you write those things down and look at them,” he says. “Think about what you can do about them.”

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