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Andy is a senior leader for the service arm of a well-known north Texas construction firm. Andy does his best to get out in front of the “firefights” that are so common in the construction world. In fact, he leads his team through annual business planning to define goals for the next year. But even with this effort, Andy always used to find himself in a reactive mode. Though he created a business plan, he was always behind and his team was always off track.

Up to this point, Andy didn’t realize that business plans are only as good as the daily decisions that are required to carry them out. The best plans are made with the best intentions. But the contractor’s everyday decision-making habits often short-circuit their best plans. Andy hadn’t yet been introduced to the simple solution of making one proactive decision per day.

The action items in Andy’s business plan are color coded:

  • green = complete
  • yellow = on track
  • red = stalled or late

Andy started each new year with on track action items and excitement for the opportunities ahead. But each year, at his mid-year check-in, at least 1/3 of his action items were in the red (stalled or late). What went wrong?

Andy’s everyday decision-making was determined by one thing: felt pressure. He focused on the immediate fires and delayed decision-making for long-term items until they created more pressure (fires). In other words, he lived in a reactive pattern.

Adding insult to injury, with all of the red items on his business plan at mid-year, he felt the urgency (pressure) of all the decisions he should have made yesterday. Under the weight of this pressure, he would take action (reactively), and hope the dice would roll in his favor.

Andy’s decision-making pattern is the default tendency for humans: to postpone decisions (big or small) until they hurt, until the fire is too big to ignore. (For example, you probably don’t think about what to eat for lunch until your stomach rumbles.) It’s understandable; good decisions take good thought. And bigger decisions usually require more preparation.

But here’s the problem: delayed decision-making patterns lead to delayed decision-making habits. So the default habit becomes focusing on what’s urgent and postponing decisions until they become painful. And just like Andy, this delayed decision-making causes contractors to choose impulsive quick fixes for critical decisions. And so they drift away from their business plan, production schedules and profitability.

Fix the Quick Fix Habit

With Andy’s solid business plans in mind, he changed his daily behavior to develop the habit of consistent, proactive decision-making. He did this by a regularly practicing the tool of making one proactive decision per day.

The key here is the word proactive. In other words, proactive means well ahead of the deadline. To do this, plan for, think through and make a decision long before a decision is actually required. This is simple enough. The key, however, is to commit to doing this at least one time every single day. This sets a new decision-making pattern, which engrains a new decision-making habit.

The once-a-day decision can be as simple as creating an agenda or to-do list for the day or as complex as choosing all necessary material specs for a job well before the purchasing deadline. To create the new habit, make the decision well before the action occurs. Of course, this takes time.

To speed up the habit formation process, keep a written log of every proactive decision and make at least one per day. This log will include:

  • The specific decision that was made;
  • The date and time of day the decision was made; and
  • What was learned and realized through making this decision.

How well did this work for Andy? The short-term results were impressive enough. For example, every morning, he listed the top three items that he must do that day. The emotions of stress and anxiety that he used to feel driving to work evaporated because he had a daily plan that aligned with his business plan.

More impressive, though, were the long-term results. Practicing this tool with smaller decisions made it easier to approach the much larger decisions, such as personnel restructuring, handling customer grievances and service agreement pursuit strategies.

This new proactive pattern also made it easier to make sound decisions when unforeseeable issues came up. Over time, Andy saw a lot more green in his business plan.

The next time contractors feel the need to put off a decision and gravitate toward the fires, they should commit to simply making one proactive decision per day. By making this one daily decision (however simple or complex it may be), contractors train their brains. They steer their business out of reactive decision-making and into the momentum of proactive decisiveness. Then, as the next major issue arises, better, quicker decisions can be made.

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