FROM THE TOP: How do you make a tough decision?

FROM THE TOP: How do you make a tough decision? - The words of the managers on the following pages neatly illustrate the changing nature of modern commercial leadership. For, successful as they all are in their various fields, when it comes to taking busi

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The words of the managers on the following pages neatly illustrate the changing nature of modern commercial leadership. For, successful as they all are in their various fields, when it comes to taking business-critical decisions the granite-faced, calculating archetype of old is nowhere to be seen. In its place comes a more human approach, where judgments are based on experience and instinct as well as hard logic. Human doesn't mean fluffy - these people make the tough choice and stick with it, ready to take the consequences and share the rewards.


When I need to take a decision, I can go upwards, I can just use my experience, or I can go to my team. But quite often I go to an individual working somewhere inside the organisation. I spend quite a lot of time just wandering around, talking to smart people and getting their feedback, effectively letting them make the decision.You have to make some bold decisions and live and die by them, but you must also be agile enough to evolve decisions based on the market. I will go by numbers, I'll go by gut, but in this business there are too many different angles for me to make those decisions alone. So I try to create an environment where individuals make the decisions, by encouraging people to feel they can take risks and get rewarded for taking them.You need to do the right thing for the business, the right thing for you, and you also need to be seen as the leader by the organisation.

Neil Holloway's 11-year stint at Microsoft includes two years as deputy MD before starting his current role in 1998.


The tough decisions are not necessarily the big ones. For example, prioritising the order in which you do things - weighing up the different merits of competing and apparently equally important demands on limited resources - can be very tough. Emotion and sentiment can be dangerous walls. Accurate information is the key currency and you can't have enough. But you also need the help and involvement of as many senior colleagues as possible. Balanced correctly, this team should have enough insight to ensure that the right decisions are made, so creating an atmosphere where contributions are welcome, respected and productive is essential. That's why you should build teams with diverse experience and broad perspectives. Mark Byford joined the World Service as director in 1998. Under his care, weekly global audience figures have grown from 138 million to 153 million.


Nobody ever lives in isolation and you can always learn from what others are doing. You can talk to colleagues and people who you trust, but ultimately anyone at the top has to put their head above the parapet and say: 'Yes, we're going to do this.' It's always the case in our business that you don't really know until the tickets go on sale what the reaction is going to be. The classic music purists and critics will always say 'you can't do this' and have a negative approach to anything new. Our attempt to take classical music to Wembley Arena 10 years ago lost us large amounts of money. The lesson there was that artists have no understanding of budgetary control. It showed us what not to do, so that out of something that expensive, you still reap the rewards as you learn from what you've done. Ultimately, you've got to go with your instinct. It probably sounds crazy to those in other lines of business, who rely on figures and market research, but in this arena you rely on your nose. It's old-fashioned showmanship. Raymond Gubbay, 55, is a classical music promoter. His company has been promoting concerts, opera and ballet since he founded it in 1966.


I believe that work is a combination of emotion and reason and you should never exclude how you feel - or how you think other people might feel - from your decision-making process. But the most important first step towards making a tough decision is to think through your various choices and then relate them to your strategy. My company faced a tough dilemma a few years ago. The increasingly fragmented media market presented us with two options: buy lots of companies and create a full marketing services group, or deliver everything under one roof, under the Saatchi & Saatchi brand. We decided that - unique among advertising agencies - we'd develop the capabilities we needed in-house. Since then we have gone from strength to strength: this part of the business now represents 25% of what we do. So define your strategy first, communicate it, let people bring it to life in the way that suits them, and stay emotionally honest throughout.

Tamara Ingram first hit the heights as joint chief executive following the ousting of Maurice and Charles Saatchi in 1995

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