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Ripple Effects

Decision making is a lonely business. That's why managing partners of professional services firms get gray hair so much faster than the rest of us. They are often in the position of being the final voice on difficult, risky, and controversial decisions. To add to their gray hair, they nearly always have to hear people's opinions about those very decisions Still, for managing partners this just goes with the territory.

There is, however, an important consequence of decision making we all need to think about: it's the ripple effect. Sometimes the ripples are very unintended, yet they have longer-term effects than the original decision itself.

For example, let's say you are considering firing a team member who we’ll call Sidney. Before you make the decision, be sure you take time to reflect. Have you thought about the possible ripples firing Sidney may cause?

How about the other team members who have strong relationships with him and feel loyal to him? What will their response be?

How about Sidney's clients, prospects, and referral sources? Is there a plan for retaining any of those relationships?

How about your competitors who would love to have Sidney work with them?

How about the general morale of your team as a whole? Will they feel threatened by your decision? Will productivity suffer?

While firing Sidney might well be the best thing you can do for the firm, you ought not make that decision in a vacuum.

This is just an example of how ripples spread from one decision. We all make many decisions each day, and my bet is a good percentage of those have unintended and surprising consequences.

Dealing with the unintended consequences of a decision saps energy, drive, and optimism. It gets in the way of fun and profitable work, like developing new business.

When you are faced with an important decision, be sure you are in the right frame of mind. After you have gathered the information and opinions you need, take the time (yes, it’s unbillable time) to think clearly and to try to see beyond the immediate issues.

Be prepared for the ripple effects — never underestimate how wide the ripples can run. Stay attuned to the consequences by using your powers of observation and your instincts as opposed to your technical skills. Finally, remain flexible. If the ripple effect of your decision is just too negative, it may mean you made a bad decision. When that happens, “cowboy up” as they say in my part of the country, and admit to yourself and others what has happened. Then you can look for corrective action that will keep you and your firm moving forward.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009