Monday, 9:30 AM. It’s time for the weekly Monday morning marketing meeting and you and your partners gather in the conference room. The discussion begins and quickly turns to the Go/No Go decisions on the table. Two are strong prospects—you have great relationships with the clients, you have been positioning your firm for months, and you have exactly the right relevant experience. The discussion is quick and painless.
Then you get to the third project. One of the principals received the RFP but you are not aware of any connection or relationship with the client. It is a building type you have little or no experience in, and the fees are low. But that partner now feels deeply passionate about the project. The discussion lasts more than an hour and no decision is made. What happened?
At some point, every firm struggles with a decision of whether or not to pursue projects. And I’m often asked for advice and counsel on that process: should we use a carefully calibrated spreadsheet with a numeric weighting of various criteria? Or should we just duke it out until we reach a consensus? Regardless of the approach, many firms spend valuable time, money and creative energy pursuing projects they have very little likelihood of winning.
Could it be that the answer lies in understanding the dynamics of decision-making? I recently heard a Harvard Business Review podcast about decision-making; and as I listened, I realized there were some valuable lessons to be learned and possibly applied to this challenging part of the marketing process. Therese Huston (author of How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices) was interviewed on the HBR IdeaCast and some of her advice resonated with me.
Don’t look at the decision too narrowly.
Good decisions come from broadening your thinking and the number of options. Deciding to pursue a project or not is in fact only one choice available to you. Ask yourself some questions. What do you hope to achieve by pursuing this project? Is there another way to achieve that? How does this pursuit fit into your overall firm or personal strategy? As you go through that brainstorming, you may perhaps realize that your options really are to a) engage in research on this client or building type to better understand what the key issues and challenges are in designing such projects; b) spend some time getting to know this client to see if there is a fit of culture and values; or c) to pursue this project or not?
Test your assumptions
When making the decision to pursue a project we may be operating from countless untested assumptions —especially when we have no prior relationship with the client. So ask yourself: what would need to be true in order for you to successfully win and execute this project? How many staff would you need to hire and are those people available to be hired? How much of your time are you realistically going to be able to devote to the project? What will you, therefore, not be able to do? Write those assumptions down and say them out loud; that often works to point out the important challenges that need to be overcome.
Manage the group process efficiently
When a group is tasked with decision-making, start by setting a time limit for the discussion and be clear on the purpose of the meeting. Is it to make a decision? Or, are you exploring and brainstorming various options? Set the tone from the beginning and manage the process!
Turn your confidence down while making the decision
Research shows that individuals tend to be overconfident about their abilities, skills, and experience while they are making decisions and under-confident once the decision is made. Reverse that! Turn down the volume on your confidence while you are deliberating. Once you decide to go for it, remember that you are playing to win. People will take cues from the confidence you exude!
As design professionals, it makes sense that you are excited at the many design opportunities available to you. But remember that you are also managing a practice and managing your own creative time and energy—a better decision-making process can help you do both!