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Zero Based Thinking Clarifies Difficult Decisions

A business owner must face up to having to make difficult decisions. One of the best techniques for finding clarity is Zero Based Thinking.

This learnt about this concept from management expert Brian Tracy but I’m not sure if it’s one of his original ideas or if he got it from someone else.

This is useful if you have employment decisions to make or if you are thinking about stopping something that you started.

How Zero Based Thinking Works

The next time you have a difficult decision to make, ask yourself this one question:
“Knowing what I know now, would I still make the same decision that I originally made?”

What it does is to help reframe your original decision that is causing the dilemma in terms of what you know now and not what you knew and hoped then.

Zero Based Thinking Example 1 – What Do I Do About A Difficult Member of Staff?

Imagine if one of your team members is unreliable, performs their job poorly and won’t communicate their progress despite many requests for updates.

You have a difficult employment decision. Should you consider firing this person or do you try to improve performance or even accept this lower level?

When you apply zero based thinking, you ask yourself…

“Knowing what I know now, would I still recruit this person?”

If your answer is “No”, then it is a pretty clear indication that it is time for a parting of the ways.

You can’t carry staff that you wouldn’t re-employ.

I remember one of the biggest lessons in my management career.

I was chief accountant at an engineering company in the West Midlands of the UK.

I inherited a financial accountant who was hopeless.

I revised my expectations and standards of his work downwards because I wasn’t impressed.

Then down again.

It seemed the less I expected, the less he achieved.

Finally I had enough and accepted that it couldn’t carry on.

I fired him.

I think it was a relief to him.

It certainly was a relief to me.

From that moment on I swore that I would never again lower my standards of what I expected from my team.

If the person is not good enough, accept it and move on.

Zero Based Thinking Decision Example 2 – A Failing Franchise

I have a friend who bought into a franchise and paid a lot of money.

Unfortunately the franchise area wasn’t exclusive. It had been largely tapped out by the existing franchisee. Relationships had already been established with the most likely prospects. Few other people were interested.

The franchisor had undeveloped marketing systems. It offered little in the way of lead generation but expected a marketing franchise fee to be paid each month.

I helped my friend focus on this difficult decision by explaining about zero based thinking.

I encouraged her to ask the question…

“Knowing what I know now, would I still buy this franchise?”

Her  answer was “No.”

It was barely generating any cash. It certainly wasn’t providing a return for the time spent or the money invested.

While it was a bitter pill, it was time to accept that the original many thousands of pounds franchise fee was gone.

The business opportunity was never there and it had been a bad decision.

It would have been an even worse decision to continue wasting time on this failed franchise.

Zero based thinking made this clear.

Zero Based Thinking Example 3 – A Professional Association

A few years ago I joined a network of business advisers.

It had seemed a good idea at the time and some of the members were making a lot of money out of it.

But the network was going one way and I was going another and over time we grew further apart.

I still rate the network and despite assurances that they would move back into the middle ground, I faced a difficult decision. Should I continue paying the monthly fees in the hope of future benefits?

So I asked myself the zero based thinking question.

“Knowing what I know now, would I still join this network?”

The answer was “No”.

I knew it was time to leave.

It cost me money as I certainly never recouped my investment and who knows, perhaps it would have generated future profits.

But I felt so much better when I had faced up to the question and made the decision.

Conclusion – Will This Help You Make Difficult Decisions?

Are you facing a difficult decision?

Are you locked in the horns of a dilemma?

Just try zero based thinking and ask yourself:

“Knowing what I know now, would I…”

Has it helped?

Zero based thinking is a fantastic coaching or self-coaching technique to encourage you to free your mind of the current situation.

It re-frames the issue into a simple black or white answer.

When you’ve got the answer, you know what to do.The solution to the difficult decision is then just a question of when and how.

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