Becoming More Pragmatic: A Business Guide to Practical Decision-Making

Steve LudwigCoachingLeave a Comment

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Everyone is a pragmatist, right?

There is never office politics, never an agreement on an idea because the Senior Vice President of My Job Is In Their Hands really likes it, no gut decisions not supported by data, no control issues between HQ and a field office (or control issue between employees), no bias against something that was tried back in the stone age, and high-performing jerks are never tolerated.

Didn’t think so.

Which if we are honest, some of this is just how the world works. We are who we are, with our various levels of quirks, preferences, and biases. That’s not going away.

The question, then, is how do we become more practical when we know people—even you—can have some basic human behaviors that want to get in the way?

For most professionals, embracing pragmatism—the ability to address issues based on practical considerations rather than the messy ones—is incredibly valuable.

For those looking to climb the corporate ladder or lead a thriving enterprise, cultivating a pragmatic mindset is key.

But how does one shift from abstract ideas or biases to a more balanced, practical approach?

Here’s a guide to becoming more pragmatic in your business decisions and actions.

1. Cultivate an Objective Outlook

First, we have to admit that we don’t always have an objective outlook. “They” are not always the ones with blinders on.

A great, easy way to start is to look at your assumptions. An excellent question can be, “What if was wrong about X or conditions have changed since I made my evaluation of Y?”

Often, we make decisions based on long-held beliefs or practices that may not be relevant today. When faced with a challenge, ask yourself: “What do I actually know about this situation? What are the facts, and where are my blind spots?” An objective mindset reduces the risk of being swayed by biases or emotions.

2. Focus on Results

I get that this sounds stupid. Of course, you focus on results. However, sometimes we focus on activity rather than outcome, inputs rather than outputs, and waiting far too long for something to work.

Pragmatists are results-oriented. When considering any business move, ask: “What will this achieve? Is there a more efficient way to reach the same outcome?” By prioritizing results, you’re more likely to focus on actionable steps that have a direct impact on your goals.

We also have to be honest and leave room for a result that needs to be an improved relationship with a client or colleague. That might not mean as high profits or as efficient of a process, but it is best for longevity.

3. Embrace Feedback

Feedback, even when it’s critical, provides a reality check. Create a culture or personal practice where feedback is welcomed and sought after. Whether it’s from peers, employees, mentors, or market results, use feedback to adjust and refine your strategies.

Even better if you can create a trusted relationship with someone that you can ask to “poke holes in this” while not being harsh about it.

4. Don’t Play the Blame Game

When confronted with challenges, a pragmatic person seeks solutions rather than dwelling on the problem or assigning blame. Develop a problem-solving mentality by breaking down issues into smaller, manageable parts and addressing each systematically.

While doing a postmortem on something that didn’t go right, that’s different than looking for someone to blame.

5. Stay Informed

It is easy to go down a YouTube rabbit hole about history or about any subject really. Which, as far as bad habits go, isn’t the end of the world.

However, we know how quickly things change in business (the latest being Artificial Intelligence). It’s important to stay informed about market trends, technological advancements, competitive shifts, current best practices, and other factors that can impact your business. This isn’t intended to be a full-time job, but checking in with business and trade press, conference presentations, and white papers on a regular basis is a good practice.

This practice can help ensure that your decisions are based on current, relevant data. Or, at least, know what’s going on to ask better questions. This doesn’t mean chasing every trend, but rather understanding the broader picture and adjusting accordingly.

6. Understand the Business Context

While focusing on details is essential, it’s equally important to step back and see the bigger picture. How does a decision fit into your overall business strategy? By contextualizing decisions, you ensure alignment with long-term goals and avoid getting lost in minutiae.

How much time could be saved if you say, “Great idea, let’s put it on the back burner as it isn’t our focus right now.”

7. Avoid Analysis Paralysis

While it’s essential to gather data and analyze it, there’s a fine line between thorough analysis and overthinking. At some point, you need to make a decision and act. Set clear deadlines for decision-making processes, and be prepared to adjust the course as you gather more data.

Remember, no amount of data will guarantee success. However, too little data can guarantee failure. Finding that balance is key.

8. Embrace Flexibility

Pragmatism doesn’t mean sticking to one path irrespective of results. It means being flexible enough to change course when something isn’t working. This agility ensures that resources—whether time, money, or manpower—are allocated efficiently.

9. Develop Empathy

Pragmatism isn’t about disregarding emotions entirely. It’s about balancing emotional understanding with practical action. By understanding the emotional drivers behind stakeholders’ actions or market shifts, you can make more informed, practical decisions.

10. Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good

This is related to analysis paralysis. In our desire to please the boss or the client, we might spend an inordinate amount of time on a problem or project in order to get the “best” solution. We need to remember that sometimes the best solution is the one that can work decently today rather than some future version that may be slightly better.

Embracing pragmatism doesn’t mean forsaking vision or creativity. It means grounding those visions in reality and taking actionable, practical steps toward achieving them. It also doesn’t mean making any decisions based on other considerations, it’s to be aware of when you are doing them and why.

As with any skill, becoming more pragmatic requires conscious effort and practice. By integrating these strategies into your daily business operations, you’ll find yourself better equipped to navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and drive results.

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