About Communication: Why not Making Tough Decisions is Actually Really Expensive

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Have you ever worked in an environment where making decisions took forever because Manager A had to involve his Super B who in turn involved Stakeholders C, D and E so that your project never took off? Well – then this post is for you.

I’ve had the pleasure to work in a multitude of different work environments over the past 12 years ranging from small single-person businesses (including my own one as well), individual clients over research facilities to Microsoft as one of the biggest global software companies. Right now I’m working for a startup which – ever since I joined three years ago – has impressed me with a tremendous growth.

Over time not only employee numbers skyrocketed but also the organisational direction changed a lot. Things we easily settled by shooting out a single e-mail two years ago were replaced by long discussions and thorough stakeholder meetings. Pespectively the company is changing from a conventional, centralised startup towards a culture that fosters autonomy and self-driven decisions in order to be able to move away from micro-management.

The Company Size Doesn’t Matter – Culture Does.

One thing that I’ve learned over time is that flat hierarchies are a pious hope. It doesn’t matter whether they are flat or actually deeply layered. What matters is that each of these layers executes autonomously. In other words: As a manager you have to create an environment where you can trust people’s decisions and the same surely goes for your manager.

The second thing I’ve learned is that the ability to make decisions is not bound to the size of a company. Yes, it might become tougher the more people are affected by it, but it’s mostly an issue of culture.

Don’t be Scared by a Decision You Have to Make.

Of course, making an important decision in a corporate environment can be an intimidating thing do to. And many people do postpone that as long as they possibly can. I think I can safely say that I’ve made several calls that should’ve better not been made at all. But this is the one thing you have to bear in mind: It’s part of the game. Nothing ever is a 100% bet. At least not during office hours. And if it is, the momentum might be gone already.

Unfortunately it’s a natural thing for people to involve others and their opinion to relieve themselves of the uncomfortable pressure they are in. It’s called communication. Cryptic sentence you say?

Let’s go through a practical example: You’re managing this one really creative employee who pitches you his new feature idea one day. It’s a bold concept your company has never tried and it could either be very successful or go wildly south. What do you do?

Reach out to your super? Bring it up with the Head of Product? Involve the CEO?

You do neither of these. You abstract.

Communicate Where Necessary. Don’t Always Over-Communicate.

I trust you’ve been with your company for a fair bit and you are generally perceived to deliver good work. Your manager trusts you, so why would you think they would want you to involve them into your decisions? Sure, if the well-being of the company is at stake – go ahead. But we as developers live in an age where we can always AB test on a fraction of our customers. No excuses.

Instead you should do what a good manager does: Strip down your employee’s idea to its bare minimum and test it as quick as possible. Try to get as much data as early as possible. Data, which you can later on use to support the project when it comes to a possible roll-out or that will make you realise you will have to eventually trash the idea. In the meantime maintain a healthy fyi mentality: Let people know what you’re doing and that there will be a follow-up at some point. Done.

It’s Easier to Ask For Forgiveness Than to Get a Permission

Do you know how often people say this sentence? And how often they do not act like it? Sad.

If – in turn – you would’ve chosen the other path and waited for the opinion of all the others would your decision have been different? Probably not. It’s called information bias and it’s what often hinders you from moving fast.

Plus, since your employee’s idea was presumably a really new and different one (hence your cold feet). How long do you think would you have lasted in a serious discussion without any initial data to back up your hypotheses?

Thirdly, think about the environment you’re setting for your team mates to work in. They come up with something disruptive and it gets shot down just like that? That’s not how it works. A company heavily relies on their employees’ input. Always ensure that you can source ideas from the team.

Don’t Be Expensive.

Ensuring the people you manage are empowered to drive their own projects will give them confidence. Always remember: Your first and foremost goal as a manager is to make yourself entirely obsolete. Only then others can take your place thus giving you the ability to pursue new challenges.

Every time you hesitate and defer tough decisions to the next management layer two things happen: You demand their time and your team cannot execute. You waste their work hours unnecessarily and even worse: You could be losing money on the business opportunity you’re are just missing out on.

Don’t be that guy.

A company where too many people involve others in long decision chains will be slow and unsuccessful. Velocity is what keeps an enterprise agile and competitive.

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