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Effective decision making is about basically one thing

Effective decision making

Most of work is really about effective decision making.

Something happens — an event, client demand, employee turnover, whatever — and someone else needs to make a decision about next steps.

That decision tends to impact the workflow of dozens, if not more.

So there’s a legit premium on, you know, making sure that effective decision making is the norm.

Now, if you’ve ever had a white-collar office job, you probably know this often isn’t the norm.

Because priority management is pretty bad at most companies, many places can become “sense of urgency” cultures where every manager is allowed to contextualize every little thing as important. This typically leads to burnout, stress, and increased turnover. In short: emotional exhaustion.

Decision makers at companies are usually guilty of this. Oftentimes they become obsessed with the details of the work (not necessarily a bad thing) as opposed to the strategy of the work. This is also confusing, because they’re essentially working down from their pay grade — simply because that’s what they understand better. It leads to a lot of skewed decision-making. There are also some issues with variability in decision-making, usually around silos. A CFO and COO will make decisions aimed at different things even though the goal should be “good of the company” because, you know, they’re chasing their own incentives. We all do this to some extent.

So in this complicated picture of decision making through work, how can we make effective decision making more normative?

The secret is avoiding decision debt

Decision debt is exactly what you might think. It’s a little bit tied to Temple of Busy. It means that a leader spends so much time on details around decisions, often in the form of micromanagement, that they created this massive pile of time debt. Nothing is really getting done. Decisions aren’t being made. It’s essentially just a series of roundabouts of busywork.

This is really common with middle managers, and as a result they’re somewhat crippling the American economy.

As First Round Review notes, the problem is that you often need to get out of your own way:

If he was going to scale as a leader, he needed to stop being the bottleneck for decisions and progress to be made. His goal became to build structures, processes and rhythms at the company that didn’t depend on his involvement, and ideally would eventually make his presence obsolete.

Yes. Your goal is to create structure that essentially makes you obsolete. That’s good management.

Ruh Roh!

We kind of just hit a topic that sheds some light on why most managers are so bad. See, for a manager to be good, they need to almost create processes that make them irrelevant. The “ruh roh” part is that the goal of work, for most people, is relevance and self-worth.

Why would you design processes in the opposite direction of what your brain and soul are craving?

So, the rub on effective decision making…

… is that for it to actually work, managers would need to do this:

  • Create processes to empower others
  • Develop workflows where they don’t need to be involved
  • Think at a high-order, strategic place

But psychologically, that would terrify most managers. The excuse, of course, would be “My team will fuck up, so I need to monitor them!” There are definitely incompetent employees, so I see that logic, sure. But first of all, if your de facto response is “My team will fuck up,” you’re probably a bad manager anyway.

I think Andy Grove (Intel founder) said something like this back in the day too: good managers ultimately make themselves irrelevant. But the human brain doesn’t want to be irrelevant, especially not at a place they spend 10-12 hours/day. That’s why effective decision making often isn’t at a premium. It’s more important to rush in and clog up a process in the name of “I matter here!” than to design processes that would be more effective towards the goal. Ego beats productivity every time out.

What else might you add on improving the notion of effective decision making?

Ted Bauer

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