Rigorous Thinking for Making Tough Calls: How I Do It

Tom Carmazzi Change, Leadership

Editor’s Note:  At the Center, we support and celebrate executives who are leading values-driven organizations. We also like to hear from these executives, as we believe their stories and experiences can help shape the global conversation around responsible business.

With this post, we are launching a new series on our blog, called the Executive Panel. We’ll ask the same question to different executives, and let them share – in their own words – their most useful strategies,  frameworks, and lessons-learned.

Our first Executive Panelist is Tom Carmazzi, CEO of Tuthill Corporation.


How do you make tough decisions?


Carmazziby Tom Carmazzi


Over the years I have made many “tough calls.” Originally, I wanted to make them quickly and implement immediately, trusting I could handle whatever outcomes arose. As I matured AND had to live with too many choices that proved much less than optimal, I decided to create a process to improve the rigor, consistency AND impact of my decision making. Today I use a decision matrix on all major decisions, including the location of a major product line; company portfolio structure; and employee decisions. I even use them in my personal life to buy a car or help my daughter choose a college.

Inviting Others into the Process

I use a matrix as a structure for thought, NOT a thoughtless structure! Its intention is to increase the success of choices, however it is only as good as the rigor in the dialogue of the structures creators. To have a truly valuable decision making tool, I begin by inviting the “right” people into the process.

These participants vary depending on the nature of the decision. When I created a matrix to determine the location of a major product line, I involved all the members of the leadership team impacted by the decision. When the decision involves hiring a new team member, I invite the folks impacted by the new hire. When I helped my daughter consider her choices for college, my wife, daughter and I created the matrix.

I find when I Invite others into the process it reduces organizational risk because I get the benefit of seeing the concerns and opportunities from the perspective of others. It also gives team members a chance to take ownership of the choice.

Creating a Decision Matrix

Once I have selected the participants, I create a “decision matrix” by going through the following process:

1. Create the matrix, as you see in the example below. (Click image for a larger version with detailed explanation.)

  • Place choices/options across the top
  • “Decision variables” to be considered in making this choice are down the side. These variables are weighted based on the importance of the variable to the decision. Weights are usually 1 to 5. (Tip: I avoid giving all the variables same or similar weights so that the weighting creates differentiation.)
  • In the intersection are the numbers from 1 to 5.  1 is the least favorable outcome given that choice and that variable.  5 is the most favorable outcome. (Again, I avoid using the same number too many times as it will reduce differentiation.
Click for larger image and detailed explanation.

Click for larger image and detailed explanation.


2. Once the matrix is created and populated I take “10 steps back” and dialogue with the participants what it is “saying.”

Does it make sense? Are there things missing? Periodically, I find we’ve overlooked important variables: take time to add these to the matrix. At the same time, I may tweak the weightings and intersections that were questionable to determine the sensitivity.

I continue to dialogue with the team. I then, given the magnitude of the decision, may choose to seek counsel from my “inner circle” members that were not involved in the creation of the matrix, to get their input on the process. I make necessary tweaks and let the matrix sit overnight (at least).

In the morning, I test the “answer” provided by the matrix to my “gut.” If different, what have I missed that is not included in the matrix? I avoid the temptation to say something like, “My 35 years of experience tells my gut the right choice.”

3. Consider how this decision aligns with my company Vision, Mission, and Values. I want these to be considered in the matrix and I include them if they were overlooked.

4. Consider the risk if the decision is incorrect. This has been helpful to determine the importance of the decision and the timing.

5. Establish a date or time that the decision has to be made. I make this challenging to avoid procrastination.

6. Once the choice becomes clear, I consider the nature of the communication required:

  • People that need to know (internal & external)
  • Sequence of the communication
  • The “message” I want to send
  • Who is the best person to deliver the message and/or messages?  Sometimes it is not me; it is best delivered by the local management. (Example: local management’s customer)
  • Time of day or week to best communicate this decision

I wish I could say that as a result of this process all my “tough calls” are perfect, but that is not true. What is true, is regardless of the choice made, this process has me talking about the right things; builds alignment; and creates ownership to make the choice more likely to have the desired outcome.

Read More >> 5 “Never Miss” Steps for Making Tough Calls, by Marisa Smith of the Whole Brain Group.


Tom Carmazzi is the CEO of Tuthill Corporation, a privately held global manufacturer of pumps, vacuums, blowers, and meters. Read more about Carmazzi’s leadership, and about Tuthill’s commitment to being a “Conscious Company” here

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