Esther walked into the conference room and saw Grace sitting there, head in hands.
“What’s wrong, Grace?”
“It’s Paul, he still hasn’t decided on authorizing me to hire SysCon. He owed me a decision last week and now we’re going to slip our code-complete date.”
Esther smirked. “Sorry about that Grace; it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a disaster at making decisions.”
“Don’t you know it. He not only doesn’t make decisions when I need them, he doesn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know when the decision will be made. Then he blames me if something slips. I’m tired of it.”
Esther leaned over to Grace and whispered. “Grace, I haven’t told anyone yet, but I just accepted a position at Miconal this morning. They asked me if anyone else was interested in coming over. You’d be a great addition there.”
Grace perked up. “Hmm. Do you have a contact there?”
“Send it on to my personal email. Thanks Esther.” Grace smiled, packed up her things, and left the conference room.
Grace’s frustration with Paul is something many of us have experienced. If you were a Grace, you got frustrated with a leader who couldn’t make decisions, didn’t make them in a timely manner, or acted impulsively. To put some meat on the bones, I’d like to contrast what I call intentional decision-making with reckless decision-making. Intentional decision-making means decisions are made on time, based on available information, by the right person, and with the good of the organization in focus. Reckless decision-making is the inverse; decisions not made in a timely manner (or at all), not based on available information, made by someone not authorized or informed to make the decision, or driven by some agenda not focused on the good of the organization. Intentional decision-making balances speed with decision quality, while reckless decision-making unduly emphasizes either speed or quality at the expense of the other.
Are you a reckless decision-maker who wants to be more intentional? Consider these 12 tips:
- Decision speed is based on need – If you see a car coming at you, split-second decision-making is imperative. You don’t take time to gather facts, consult with others, and consider alternatives. You just act. Similarly, leaders need to throttle the speed of their decision-making to the urgency of the situation. Gauge the need to make a quick decision and act accordingly.
- Set expectations on decision types – Followers need to know what to expect from a leader regarding what decisions they can make on their own and when to engage the leader. The leader needs to get alignment with followers on four decision types:
- Follower presents decision alternatives, leader decides – The follower brings a decision to the leader for the leader to make.
- Follower decides, leader concurs – The follower consults with the leader before making a decision.
- Follower decides, leader is informed – The follower makes a decision then informs the leader of the decision made.
- Follower decides, leader not informed – The follower makes a decision independently, the leader is not informed.
- Be clear not only on what decisions need to be made, but when – When a leader is faced with a decision, one of the first questions he or she needs to understand is when the decision needs to be made and what happens if it’s not made by that date. Don’t accept ASAP, TBD, or Yesterday from followers. They are either too vague or, in the “yesterday” case, impossible to achieve. Drive specificity on the need-by date.
- Press for consequences of not deciding by the due date – Consequences of not deciding are just as important as the due date. Conducting the due diligence on the decision will likely compete for time on your schedule, so the leader needs to have a clear understanding of not only the due date but the consequences of not meeting the due date. It also forces followers to be thoughtful and quantitative about what they are asking you as a leader to do and what happens if you don’t do it by the due date.
- Accept that sometimes your alternatives are worse and worser – Leaders are rarely faced with perfect decision alternatives; most times there are negative implications of any alternative and the leader must evaluate which alternative offers the fewest downsides. Don’t be tempted to dismiss an alternative just because you find something wrong with it; it may be your least-worst alternative.
- Explain the why – Followers may not agree with the leader’s decision and may think the leader is operating without the facts or has another agenda. When the leader doesn’t reveal the rationale behind a decision, it gives followers the opportunity to create their own version of the why, which may or may not be accurate. Explaining the why behind your decisions exposes followers to your thought process and allows followers to correct any inaccurate factors that guided your decision. While followers may not be happy with a decision, you want them to at least respect its soundness.
- Encourage “if you were in my chair” thinking with followers – A secure leader has the courage to ask his or her followers, “If you were in my chair, what would you do?” Asking a follower what decision they would make not only demonstrates that you respect their point of view, but also exposes the leader to how a follower thinks though difficult decisions. Getting the follower’s perspective also helps the leader give the follower additional considerations they may not have thought about.
- Be intentional about risks and mitigations – Good sound decision-making involves an understanding of the risks with each decision alternative and the mitigating factors which need to be undertaken to ensure success. I’ve seen seasoned leaders who mentally analyze decision alternatives’ risks and mitigating factors. Then there are others who need to write (or type) them out. As a leader, it’s not only important that you clearly understand the risks and mitigating factors, but that you can also explain them to followers.
- Be clear on the constraints – This is particularly important when empowering a follower to make a decision. Any constraints that are present, i.e., “The decision has to cost less than $10,000,” should be well thought out and clearly articulated. It not only helps followers with decision-making, but also forces you as the leader to understand how a decision meets or doesn’t meet constraints.
- Don’t let decisions sit on your to-do list – Allowing outstanding decisions to stack up not only frustrates followers, but also takes up your management cycles by putting more on your to-do list. Work to getting decisions off your to-do list as quickly as you can while still being intentional rather than reckless. It’s a great feeling to cross something off your to-do list, and outstanding decisions are no exception.
- Articulate the why when changing your mind – One of the constants for a leader is that things will change. What may have been a good decision three months ago can suddenly be a bad decision. As a leader, it’s important for you to be open to reversing a decision that no longer is the best (or least-worst) alternative. Just be clear about the why when explaining your change.
- Do what you say you’ll do – If you say you’re going to make a decision by a due date, for Pete’s sake do it, or provide rationale as to why the decision can’t be made by that date with a revised due date. Just as you expect followers to do what they say, they expect you to live up to your commitments.
The Consequences: Not being intentional about decision-making can result in the following consequences:
- You’ll make bad decisions – This may sound like a no-duh, but it’s well worth stating. Also, making untimely decisions or not making them at all is the same as making bad decisions.
- You’ll frustrate followers – As a leader you’re expected to make decisions that pave the way for followers to do their job. Reckless decisions hold up progress and will ultimately cause your followers to question your fitness as a leader.
- You’ll hurt your business – Reckless decisions will most likely cost time, money, and/or quality. You also risk losing great follower talent (like Grace) who get fed up with you as a leader and decide to leave.
The Next Steps:
- Review the 12 tips for intentional decision-making.
- Decide which ones you need to improve.
- For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those decision-making areas.
- Use a trusted advisor who has exposure to your decision-making process to hold you accountable in your intentional decision-making