How a Decision Menu Can Help You Meet Goals

When we get assigned tasks, sometimes we get them wrong. A decision menu will give you more information upfront, so you can get the job right on the first try.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #418

It’s so hard to get people to make decisions!decision menu

Let's say you’re Cthulhu, the world destroying tentacle-mouthed, bat-winged, god-like monster that haunts my every nightmare. Your high priestess has been collecting marketing data from the Cthulhu worshipping population of the world. She comes to you with a new product pitch—the people want a Book of the Dead! Naturally, though, you are mighty Cthulhu and you want some guidance on how to create a Book of the Dead. What the heck is a Book of the Dead anyway?

So you ask: High priestess, what shall I put in this book? Whatever pleases you, the priestess replies. And leaves. Whatever pleases you? Really? You’re not the one asking for a Book of the Dead! You have no idea what your worshippers want. Maybe they want everything. It takes a really long time to write everything, and this could risk cutting into your manicure time. Those nail are looking awfully grungy.

As Cthulhu, you have thousands of years to live, but your worshippers don’t.

But you put in the effort. You give your priestess the completed Book of the Dead, complete with a faux leather cover that looks like real demon skin … And she hands it back with a tolerant smile. “I think the worshippers want something with more character development.” Really? Really? This is what it’s like to be a legendary bat-winged God? Running the cash register at Denny’s is looking more appealing all the time.

When people ask you for things, they usually want their assignment completed in a really specific way. But they’re too lazy to think it through in advance. They need guidance. But simply asking a Yes/No questions like “Do you want more character development?” won’t work. If they say no, you’re where you started and they still don’t know what they want. If they say yes, they probably haven’t thought through the alternatives. But you can bet they will, the moment after you’ve put in the work and given them the result. 

You can get them thinking and deciding up front by giving them a menu of choices. A menu of choices forces them to weight the choices against each other. It activates their brains.

Give people a menu of choices for all the decisions that surround the deliverable.

Give Them a Menu of Due Dates

People want the perfect outcome as fast as possible. Of course, being Cthulhu, you’ll deliver when you’re good and ready (er, bad and ready?). But it would be helpful to know when worshippers want this Book of the Dead. 

Only offer options you can deliver. Offer a short timeline with lesser quality. Offer a medium timeline with medium quality. And add a third option with the optimal time for the best product.

As Cthulhu, you have thousands of years to live, but your worshippers don’t. Ask your priestess whether this Book of the Dead needs to be done next week, next year, or next millennia. Now that she has to think about it, she realizes that there are innocent kids who will need to find it in the mysterious and slimy basement of a woodland cabin. So the high priestess chooses the “next year” option for a medium-quality, but still effective Book of the Dead. 

The time frame is chosen. You also get her thinking more deeply by giving her menus of deliverables.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.