Building Capable Decision Makers

Sometimes people lack the confidence to make a decision. We get bottle necks and then it all sits on my shoulders. I worry that people will make mistakes or leave things undone. I want to change that. It seems I have to let people make decisions. How do I do that without risking the whole company falling into crisis?

Thoughts of the Day: Teaching people how to make good decisions is, or should be, part of any bosses’ job description. A system makes it easier to build confidence and skill. Stop thinking of yourself as infallible. Spread the load and allow yourself more free time.

As a boss your job is to surround yourself the most capable players possible. One way to do that is to teach people how to be effective decision makers.

Encourage action, even if it may temporarily be in the wrong direction. Short trials, followed by rapid analysis of the results, can help people decide if a decision is heading them in the right direction, or not. Criticizing people for getting it wrong will likely lead to a more cautious approach in the future, perhaps more cautious than you want. Constant criticism can result in a retreat altogether from the decision making front.

Teach people to lighten up. Of course they’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does. The important thing is to recognize the lessons contained within the mistakes, and use those lessons to get smarter about future actions.

Build a decision making system. Use questions to follow a uniform approach:

  1. What’s the real underlying problem we’re trying to solve?
  2. Who needs to be involved; who has critical information?
  3. What research needs to be done?
  4. How can we reduce or eliminate options?
  5. How soon does the decision need to be made?
  6. Have the individuals involved faced similar situations before? If not, who with more experience can provide assistance?
  7. What are the checkpoints to insure that any proposed solution doesn’t turn into a runaway problem?

Set up boundaries to help people understand the limits within which they operate. For example, if the decision costs, or is likely to cost, under $__x__, the employee can make the decision on his or her own; over that amount a manager needs to be involved in fact checking and risk assessment.

If someone seems stuck, limit debate before testing a direction. Sometimes setting off in any direction will make it clearer what really needs to happen next. Practice making decisions, and reward the effort regardless of outcome. Get the person to move more quickly. Sometimes the best thing you can say as a manager is, “Go ahead and try. Let me know how it works out. I’ll be here if you need help.”

Most business owners pride themselves on the number of times they’ve gotten it right, dodged the bullet, or pulled a rabbit out of a hat. The ego that goes with experience can get in the way of allowing an up-an-comer in the organization to spread their wings and take a few risks.

There’s a saying: you’re only as strong as your weakest link. What does it say about you, if you’re surrounded by people who can’t, or won’t make decisions? You have a lot more to gain than lose by getting everyone on your team confident enough they can and will take action.

Resist your ego. Instead, learn to take joy in watching how people develop. Remind them of the times they were successful. Even when they got it wrong, remind them of how they learned from the experience.

Focus on what you ultimately want: freedom, independence, a sale-able business., Remember, the next buyer of your business isn’t interested in buying you. That buyer is looking for a team of people who can run the company in your absence.

Looking for a good book? Smart Choices, A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa.