At some point in our academic life we all learn about decision-making - if not in theory, at least in practice. Even with all the tools available and other paraphernalia to support decision-making, there is one subject missing from our curriculum: responsiveness. Forget Pareto, grid analysis or Kepner- Tregoe: when deciding, you need, above all, responsiveness.

Responsiveness is not simple to teach and people perceive it differently. Therefore it has acquired an omnipresent second-class status. Responsiveness deals with the tricky variable of time: the best time to make a decision is simply the best time to make a decision.

When hesitation has the power of destruction

The best way to demonstrate this principle is by looking at an example. Imagine a young and eager man, who is planning to propose to his girlfriend. They have been dating for several years and he is sure that she is The One. He carefully prepares a romantic proposal including flowers; a fancy dinner and even an airplane dragging a giant banner with the familiar question “Will you marry me?”

Now we all know the possible outcome: the girl will either excitedly say yes, or she will hesitate. The hesitation does not necessarily mean she will not marry our young friend; it might as well be that she is not ready. But the burden on this young man’s shoulders will be immense. The momentary lack of a decision - even if it only last a couple of milliseconds – is enough to make his whole world crumble down. His mind is quickly adapting to a series of possible scenarios - none of which he was really prepared for.

Responsiveness means decision-making at the right time. It is the girl using those right milliseconds to say “yes” or “no”. The proposer might feel a lot better with a straight and reasonable “no” than having to “hang on air” with indecision.

Another example comes in handy: the military. Good military leaders are responsive deciders. You wait too long, and the enemy forces will pin down your squad. You time your decision wrongly, and the enemy ambushes your platoon. In battle situations, even apparent wrong decisions might be better than no decision whatsoever.

Any survival guide will teach you to trust your instinct and act instead of letting fear and stress affect your decision-making. There is nothing more dangerous in a survival scenario than hesitation.

Sluggishness in corporate decisions

Even though these examples might seem obvious, their teachings have broader applications. In social groups, not governed by a state of emergency, responsiveness quickly slips through our fingers. Corporations are among these social groups. There are simply too many heads to be gently convinced, many comforts to be put at risk and many feet one has to avoid stomping on. What happens is decision-making gets sluggish and loses responsiveness.

All the important tools supposed to help decision-making only manage to drag decisions even further. They aim to help build the foundation of good decisions, but become crutches for indecision.

Setting goals for decision-making

One of my personal targets is to be able to make at least one decision per meeting I participate. Of course, the more the merrier.

If decisions are resting – or pressing – on my shoulders, I try to respond to them as if in a survival situation: as if my troops depended on them with their lives.

When the battle is won and my team and I victoriously walk home, I know my decision-making was responsive enough. If we get killed or injured, at least I know it was not due to my inaction or hesitation.