What if every decision was simple?
What if your staff didn’t have to bring every single question to you for an answer?
What if you didn’t have to justify and apologize to your clients all the time?
What if your headspace was more available for big projects–or undistracted when you’re playing with your kids?
One of the first things we teach entrepreneurs is to write their decisions down. Every operational procedure; every policy; every best practice starts as a simple decision. And the secret to entrepreneurial traction is to make decisions ONCE, instead of several times.
Steve Jobs famously wore the same turtleneck and ate the same breakfast every day. Jobs was avoiding “decision fatigue”: the exhausting toll that little decisions take on our brains, weakening our clarity and resolve. Jobs knew that our capacity for making decisions is finite. We have a daily limit. And even little decisions, like what to wear to the office, eat away at that capacity. So when big, important decisions have to be made, we’re not playing with a full deck.
Here’s an example: a client says, “I didn’t show up last month. Can I get a refund?”
If you have a written refund policy, your answer is simple: Yes or No. No agonizing, no apologizing, no deliberating, no stressing about it later.
Another example: a staff person says, “Can I get a raise?”
If you have a written policy on staff wages, your answer is simple: “Yes, when these conditions are met” or “Not until you achieve these conditions.” No late nights worrying, no hard conversations, no loss of authority, no apologizing.
Consistency is greater than everything else.
We want entrepreneurs to make decisions ONCE; to get these decisions out of their HEAD; and to free up focus to solve bigger problems.
Here’s how to do it:
- Record your standard operating procedures in a business Operations Manual. This is a long process, and we break it down into steps in the Incubator. Your goal is to write a book that could replace you: your staff should be able to refer to the Ops Manual instead of asking you questions about how to do things. A great Ops manual would make your business turnkey: if you were hit by a bus, someone else could read the Ops Manual and run your business exactly the way you do.
- Make your procedures as simple as possible. Reduce every rule to black and white. Remove exceptions and shades of gray.
- Train your staff to refer to the Ops Manual to find answers first. This requires discipline on your part: it’s easy, in the short term, to just answer their questions. But this trains everyone around you to ask questions instead of finding the answer in your Ops Manual, which makes the whole process redundant.
- Make yourself unavailable. Close your door. Go away on vacation. This is the only way to find the holes in your Ops Manual. When you return, you’ll be asked questions that will make you think, “Doesn’t EVERYONE know that?!?” But of course, they don’t. So write them down and add them to the Ops Manual.
- When you’re faced with a new situation, make your decision, and record it in the Ops Manual. Having new decisions to make is part of being successful. But making the same decision twice is bad leadership.
- As you grow from Farmer Phase to Tinker Phase, hire someone to manage the day-to-day operations of your business. This could be a General Manager or a COO. They should wear the Ops Manual on their belt: their job is to ensure compliance, not to make decisions for you. They don’t need to figure anything out: they just need to keep things black and white. They just need to follow your Manual.
- Every quarter, review changes to the Ops Manual with your entire staff.
Here’s the great news: you’ll always need to make decisions. You’ll always face challenges. Business will always be tough. But it won’t be impossible. You’ll make forward progress if you record your decisions.
Every decision you make is a little bit of grit under your tires. But only if they’re written down and rigidly applied. If everything’s in your head, you can spin your wheels really fast without going anywhere.