Making difficult trade-offs is so frustrating. It takes a lot of time, often there’s that nagging feeling of doubt, sometimes even guilt, and all of that for an undesired end result: choosing ONE of two options whereas you wanted BOTH.
The other day we had one of those typical dilemma’s. We had planned to speak for a business club in Belgium. Rather – we had ‘re-planned it’, because the initial date didn’t work anymore for us (due to an important client request in the US). Re-planning the date had not been easy because of the very busy agenda’s… But we managed – and looked forward to the session.
Two weeks before the session, the same US client asked us to facilitate a 2-day workshop with its top 50. The workshop would take place in the US … exactly when we had ‘re-planned’ to speak for the business club in Belgium. Not easy… We had already cancelled the business club talk once… Yet here was an interesting workshop for a good client… There was no clear, good option. Doing both was physically impossible. We had to make a trade-off …
This is just one amongst the many situations where we used our ‘trade-off formula’. The formula comprises 3 questions, and has helped us tremendously over the last years:
- First, a ‘stretch’-question: is one option a clear winner in terms of impact?
If the answer is yes, you have the solution to the trade-off. If not, go to question 2.
- Then, a ‘balance’-question: does one option allow to re-balance an area that has been out of balance lately?
If the answer is yes, you have the solution to the trade-off. If not, go to question 3.
- Finally, an ‘authenticity’-question: which option is more in line with my values?
The answer to this question provides the solution to the trade-off.
So what did this mean for the situation above?
- The ‘stretch’ question (“is one option a clear winner in terms of impact?”) didn’t give us a solution. The US client workshop would be financially more attractive to us. And we did quite some work for them. We definitely wanted to help! The business club talk, on the other hand, allowed for interesting encounters. Missing out on that, would be a shame… In our mind, there was no clear winner for question 1. So we asked the second question.
- The ‘balance’ question (“does one option allow to re-balance an area that has been out of balance lately?”) didn’t allow to decide either. We had served our US client (and other clients) very well – so there was nothing we had to ‘make up for’. We had a good stream of business and no financial ‘imbalance’… In fact, nothing was ‘lagging behind’, there was no need to ‘rebalance’ anything. Given there was no clear winner for question 2, we asked the third question.
- The ‘authenticity’-question (“which option is more in line with our values? “) helped us decide. When discussing our values, we realized commitments made are very important to us. As one option was a (rescheduled) commitment made months ago, and the other option a completely new request, the decision to make was suddenly pretty straightforward: stick to our first commitment, i.e. do the business club talk.
Thanks to this formula we felt pretty good about our final decision. We knew we had chosen the option with (1) the highest impact; (2) the most rebalancing power and (3) the most authenticity. It was the option most in line with what we consider important (which is a personal matter – so you might have chosen the other option).
We use this formula all the time when we have to deal with trade-offs (eg when having to make a trade-offs between meetings; when there are far too many to dos on our agenda; when there are trade-offs to make in private life…). Sometimes the 3 questions are necessary. Often, the first question (“is one option a clear winner in terms of impact?”) already suffices to decide. Very powerful!
Try it out – you might find it helpful.