Fixing Your Decision Waffling

During the Second World War, the CIA created a short manual called Simple Sabotage. It had instructions on how citizens of enemy countries can take steps to harm their own governments’ efforts, in case they didn’t agree to their actions. While containing information about using inadequate tools, misplacing orders, and so on, it contains several communication and management directives, which I all too often see in my work with tech executives nowadays.

You might think I’m exaggerating here, which is why I happily point you to the PDF here, which will surely make you think about some people you know.

Leaders are deciders

Often, tech executives and others in tech leadership fail at making decisions effectively. Being, in general, way too analytical, we overthink every step, are susceptible to analysis paralysis, and fear to miss a detail.

You know the scene: a decision has to be made, and so a string of meetings are held, with each one ending with more and more research and questions and no resolution in sight. When the deadline approaches, the decision is made by committee to ensure that no one ends up happy, and all novel approaches are squashed. Great success!

This is all by-the-book sabotage.

Decision Management 101

Instead of waffling and doing everything within your power to delay proper decision making, let’s discuss how you can improve your situation. In this article, I’ll put aside the actual decision-making step mind you, and will talk about the encompassing framework you should have in your personal operating system.

As you can see in the figure, there are several stages for a decision, and we will talk about minimizing the time some of them take:

  • No decision is a decision: If I had a dollar for every time a client delayed making a decision as much as possible (or even more), I wouldn’t need to charge them. What we don’t seem to grasp is that by delaying, we are making the decision to leave things as-is for now. Usually, the downside of delaying action and investing more in research is more significant than the upside of making the Most Rightest Decision.
  • If you make a decision and no one knows, you didn’t make it: There’s a term I use quite often, which is Decision Clarity. Making a decision is meaningless unless you’ve ensured that all relevant parties find out promptly. Just a few days ago, I heard about someone that kept delaying a vital issue because their boss procrastinated on making a tough conversation and making the decision known. Get to it.
  • Decide who’s deciding: Just because someone came up to you with a question, it doesn’t mean you’re the one that needs to answer it. If it is something that belongs to the purview of one of your managers, delegate it to them (and make the delegation known, see above). In general, do not create committees or try to get consensus. That is if you care about making the right decisions.
  • Decide once: If it feels like Groundhog Day, consider whether you’re answering the same types of issues repeatedly. The key to any worthwhile delegation is instilling in your subordinates a set of beliefs, guidelines, and values that allow them to make the right decision without requiring your involvement.
  • Box the decision-making process: Decisions that have an external deadline on them are easiest in this regard, but why shouldn’t most decisions be handled the same? When there’s some decision required, put a deadline on it–there’s no sense in devoting three weeks to research for something that can likely be completed in two once decided.
  • Do it: Decisions are only important for the outcomes they should generate. A memo with a decision sent to everyone is an excellent first step, but it has to be followed by an execution plan.
  • Review regularly: And to close the loop and Improve Your Improvements, make it a habit to review decisions and their results every once in a while to learn whether you are defaulting to making decisions too hastily, or investing too much effort into them without cause.

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