Nick's Notes

Yes, but No, but Yes…

Everyone dislikes dithering. It is particularly frustrating when someone you report to can’t make up their mind and give clear direction. Equally, it is difficult when so called decisions are revisited, and things you believe to be settled get reopened and discussed further.

I have no magic wand to make these things go away. But it is possible to look at things more roundly than being forced into a binary decision, especially if it is a close call. Being charitable, the reason many decisions either don’t stick or can’t be made is because either there is ambiguous data or lack of clarity about what is the goal. Less charitably, we all know people who were promoted beyond their competence and seem incapable of making up their minds about important matters.

I have written before about one of these techniques. It requires self-confidence and trust. This is recognising that there is a right time to take a decision. It is very different from dithering, because dithering in this context takes place at the point at which a decision is required. I have sat on Boards that are very good at this technique. We have seen that matters are emerging but know that the final shape is not yet clear. We have recognised that we must maintain a watching brief, perhaps lobby for a suitable outcome where we have some input or influence, and we have communicated that clearly to our executives. Such a statement can be quite empowering because it confers the right to bring new evidence into the mix. The confidence is required because such situations develop at different speeds, and it is important to be ready to take a timely decision when it is required.

Another approach is to consider the duration that a decision is being taken for. Not all decisions are “for ever”. Indeed very few are – although in this context the cost of changing might be very high so as to render the decision effectively for ever. Choosing to implement SAP is such a case, as very few people will get away with making a different decisions a short time after it has been implemented, although technically it can be reversed. All decisions do have an implicit associated timescale – but these are not always made explicit. You can sell what you buy, you can choose to do something you once decided against. It is a key part of decision making, in my opinion, to tease out the effective duration of a decision. It gives perspective. It also makes it easier to say ‘not now’ to something, because very often it remains possible to change that to a ‘let’s do it’ in the future – and vice versa. This is most often used when relating to priorities and focus.

So, in addition to “yes” and “no”, you have at your disposal two other outcomes. “Now is not the time to decide” and “not at present / yes, for now”. Explicitly stated, well justified and clearly communicated, these four options are well used by very successful leaders, and help gain a reputation for decisiveness.

Share this page