Enabling other decision makers

After I posted yesterday’s commentary on decision-making, I realized I had a few more thoughts that should have made it into the post.  That’s what I get for pushing for a post every day, I guess.

There’s a natural tendency among engineers to question decisions.  We do it to ourselves, and we do it to our colleagues. We expect it, and value it. We need it, when we’re collaborating on design, or performing a code review.  But this behavior runs counter to rapid decision making, though, and knowing when to suppress it is a valuable differentiating skill.

Yesterday, I wrote some of the reasons why people with a technical background might have trouble making decisions.  Now imagine this person has finally made the decision (despite being deeply uncomfortable with having to) and the first thing you say is “Did you consider XYZ?”

Well, drat.

Maybe I did consider it, and judged it an unimportant factor. But the fact that you’ve brought it up causes me to second-guess that judgment, my instincts, and my decision.  It’s like you came along and hit the reset button on my decision.  It’s worse than that.  You’ve made me gunshy about making future decisions.  Clearly I’m not thinking all the factors through thoroughly enough.

You go back to your desk, happy that you “helped” me.  I go back to my desk and continue gnashing my teeth.  Neither of us think of what just happened as negative!  But it slows the organization down, and negatively impacts future decisions.

This is probably not something your manager will praise you for or call you out on during a performance review.  Your peers might not even notice you doing it.  But you have the power to support a decision or to undermine it, every time you’re exposed to one.  If your organization (like mine) values decision-makers, you have a responsibility to encourage decisive behavior.

Learn to recognize that moment of choice, and think twice before you exercise your ability to sidetrack a decision.  I’m sorry to say that it’s unlikely anyone will thank you for it, but you will learn to appreciate the feeling of enabling success on your team.  Not only that, when you do finally push back on a decision, people will know that you’re seriously concerned, not just exercising your engineering instinct of second-guessing everything.

It’s just another tool to keep in your chest and bring out when the time is right.