The three levels of decision making

A recent conversation with a colleague left me thinking about decision making, and the effectiveness of decision making.

How decisions are made impact the effectiveness of the decision, and it is not obvious that everyone thinks through this before deciding.

Imagine that you are a manager. You can

  • Mandate a decision
  • Make a decision, but consult others before making it
  • Delegate a decision or influence the outcome of a decision

From top to bottom, the difficulty level of decision making increases. From bottom to top, the value of the decision decreases.

Let’s consider a decision you have mandated (‘Everyone checks in code at the end of the day, period!’ you yell in an email). The decision is quick. But no one else on your team has skin in the game, and so there is no incentive for anyone else to actually follow this. In fact, it is quite likely that someone on the team is bitching about it behind your back (‘ What a clueless guy! How can we check in code that does not compile? We will then be held responsible for breaking the build !’)

A better option is to consult the team before deciding. Solicit opinions. Use them to come up with a resolution for the underlying problem you are trying to solve. It will take longer – but the decision has more value, because others have contributed to it.

The hardest kind of decision that you will make is one that you do not make. This happens when you delegate a decision or influence someone else – a peer, for example – into making the right decision. This is hard stuff, and it takes time. Yet it is the most valuable kind of decision – because someone else made the decision. They will be committed to it, more so than you. They will go out of their way to get to the right outcome for that decision. These are the kind of decisions that leaders make, by influencing outcomes that they do not control to get team buy in. You know a good leader when they do not throw their weight around, but ask others to make decisions and influence the outcome