The young protégé asked his mentor, “How do you know what is the right decision?” The mentor answered “From experience.”
“But how can I get experience?” The protégé asked. “Make some bad decisions.” was the mentor’s answer.
Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. As business owners, people look to us every day to make decisions. Customers are seldom conscious of the many things that have to go right for them to receive products or services correctly and on time. As an owner, however, you are all too aware that “There is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.”
Employees often believe that the owner wears an invisible superhero cape. “Decision Maker- scourge of evil problems!” It doesn’t occur to them that you may not know the answer, understand the problem, or even want to make a decision right now. You are the answer machine, spitting out solutions like fortunes from a carnival attraction.
When an owner makes a decision, he or she assesses the risks and accepts the consequences. Your decisions are holistic — encompassing multiple factors and balancing conflicting priorities. Is that customer important enough to warrant special handling? How much will it cost? What is the impact on other customers? Does it create the potential for unforeseen consequences?
The danger of a correct decision, one that produces an acceptable result, is that it often become unwritten policy. How many times has an employee said, “But I did the same thing that you told me to do the last time!” You look for the anomalies; the factors that are a bit different from the previous situation. The employee looks for a safe harbor; seeking an answer that he believes is pre-approved.
One of the most common requests from my clients is “How can I get my employees to think like me?” One way is to let them make mistakes, but that can be an expensive teaching tool. More often, we fall back on rules created around our past decisions.
But how do you know that a good decision was the best decision? I can’t count how many times I’ve created a process that worked. Weeks or months (and sometimes years) later an employee says, “Why don’t we just do this instead?” and I immediately realize that her suggestion is a big improvement. Maybe our organization has grown, or we’ve added new technology, but just as frequently we haven’t. It’s simply that I moved on once we had a solution that worked, and as long as it worked I left it alone.
Similarly, the employed decision makers in your organization are charged with producing a specific result. As parameters shift, they find ways to work around new obstacles. Once in a while I’ll discover that employees are working very hard, executing multiple work-arounds to produce a result that just isn’t that important. The original purpose long ago faded into insignificance, but good people are still knocking themselves out to maintain it.
Correct decisions, good decisions and the best decisions are three different things. Correct decisions are those which address the variables of a specific situation, and produce a desirable result. Good decisions are ones that produce the desired results every time. They can be made into policies.
The best decisions are good decisions that have been vetted for cost, efficiency and consistency. They’ve been reviewed periodically to make sure that their purpose and method remain relevant, and that they still deserve being treated as rules.
Delegating decision-making requires that you teach employees the difference.