We Stopped Making Decisions And Started Doing Them. It Makes All The Difference.
Written by: Erik Larson
Early in my career, I felt that decision-making was proof of my guts, or my smarts, or both. Being decisive meant forcefully judging the right course of action and then convincing and cajoling to bend actions to my will. I meet many people who still feel that way.
Later, I felt that decision-making was slow corporate torture, or a chance at corporate immolation, or both. Making decisions meant calling meetings and crafting emails to head off attempts to pass the buck, waffle and churn or stonewall, torpedo and pounce. I meet many other people who still feel that way.
In my company today, we don’t make decisions anymore. We do decisions. And that makes a world of difference.
Let’s do a decision on this.
“Making” decisions emphasizes the split second when someone says “This is the decision.” Saying we need to make a decision is like a magician doing sleight of hand. It puts a distracting focus on that moment and that person, rather than the entire process of observing, framing, deciding, acting and tracking results across teams of people.
“Doing” decisions emphasizes the overall process. It changes decisions from magical acts of personal power to important daily work that we need to get done. When we do decisions, it is easy to follow good practices: frame why we need to decide, gather perspectives and alternatives, communicate the decision in an actionable way and keep track of the outcomes.
Doing decisions aligns with the truth that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. It puts emotions on the back burner and tempers egos. It is more inclusive up front, so decisions get more support and success once they happen. And it makes it easy to track decisions all the way through, so successes get scaled and failures get fixed fast.
I was prompted to write this by a Slack thread on Friday afternoon.
We’d been debating a feature in our software about default due dates and reminders for decisions. The designer had one opinion, the product manager another. Engineering had a third idea. Customer success did a quick pulse of several customer advisors that pointed in a different direction. My blood pressure rose a point. We needed to decide.
In my early days, I would have just stepped in and made the call based on my judgment, authority, smarts and charisma, or directed the product manager to do the same. The decision would be “made” in a split second. But the effort to get people aligned might take days, and just as bad, our research shows that making decisions this way ignores better options over 90% of the time.
In my corporate days, I would have crafted an email and called a meeting, or even worse tabled it for the next scheduled meeting, thereby delaying the work but leaving more room for it to work itself out. The decision would have taken longer, and probably would have resulted in us doing what my gut thought we should do in the first split second.
But today, I just replied, “Let’s do a decision on this,” and relaxed.
Now the designer will frame up the decision, laying out the problem, the options and the customer input. Each stakeholder will weigh in with their perspective on their own time. If it is like most decisions, these varying perspectives will surface a new option that everyone agrees to and supports as the best option. Communication will happen automatically without any meetings or scattered emails and Slack messages. The decision will be tracked to make sure it goes as expected.
The whole process will happen twice as fast as my old ways. And I’ll have enough time to do about a half-dozen other things that are more productive than convincing and cajoling or meeting and emailing about decision due dates — like writing this post, for instance.