How to make better business decisions

Success in business is dependent upon big and small decisions that we make every day. Making them consistently is good for efficiency and for brand clarity and value.

There are a number of criteria we can use to make such decisions, but of course, choices need to be made with regard to the external business environment.

The thing is, all business decisions happen within a context. This context should not be separated.

There are three broad viewpoints from which to consider business decisions: The commercial, the legal and the moral. Ignoring any of these is likely to result in a bad result; especially from a brand point of view.

You would obviously not want to ignore legal obligations or protections because of the likely consequences. You would also not be in business long without commercial acumen. But equally the moral dimension should not be ignored. Because to do so is going to reduce the pool of potential customers, employees and even suppliers with whom you can work. And what is the point of doing that when it’s so avoidable?

For example, when I was working in recruitment and a client asked me to recruit for him but not to send him any ‘foreigners’. I could have decided ‘no problem, they are paying me, they are in charge.’ It would have been against the law of course, but realistically no-one would have known. But I chose not to do this. What I did was to say no, put the phone down and never have any contact with that company again. Did I lose out financially? Yes, assuming that the service could have been effectively delivered. Was the company employing me better off as a result? Yes, in many different ways.

At the same time, you would not want to focus on any of these three considerations to the detriment of the others. What’s the point of protecting yourself from legal risk to the point that no-one wants to work for you or enter into an agreement with you? What’s the point of being ethical and compliant but not making business sense? Can all three of these be effectively combined? I believe so, but it requires the clear setting out of purpose and in addition, consistent decision making and the consistent application of decisions (within reason). So every business decision involves the trade-off of competing priorities.

Business decision-making dilemmas

None of us can impose moral values on others (a ‘Kingdom of Ends’ as Immanuel Kant put it). What we can do though is have a set of standards that a company represents. People within a company need to be persuaded and rewarded accordingly. Hence ‘People’ being part of the Marketing Mix.

On more than one occasion I’ve been offered work by potential clients that just didn’t meet my standards of fairness and reasonableness. Examples include a collection of competitor information by dishonest means and requests to plagiarise content (why would I do that when I can write better stuff?)

In the commercial realm, it’s clear that there are always multiple ways of generating the desired financial returns. But you can’t behave with regard to commercial considerations only. Of course, there are numerous ways of making money by exploiting people or resources. But you can and should succeed without doing so.

The good news is that it’s almost always possible to make a decision that meets your legal, commercial and moral standards simultaneously. Having a diverse workforce that serves the needs of diverse customers and making sustainable returns by being recognised as having standards consistent with those of your customers are just two of many examples.

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