We all make decisions. Constantly. Every single day of our
We all like to make decisions. Important people make
decisions. We like to feel important. It’s almost like a drug. He who decides
has power. He who decides is important. But with great power comes great
responsibility. And the responsibility that comes with making decisions is the
responsibility to accept when you discover they are “wrong”, and change them
when necessary. Unfortunately, changing decisions is generally much harder than
This is a big problem. This is a very very very big cultural
problem. People, in general, do not like changing decisions. Especially by
people that tend to make decisions, which tend to be senior people. In fact
they loathe it. Despise it. Would do almost anything to avoid it. Changing a
decision means you were wrong. Changing a decision means you made a mistake.
For these reasons (amongst others) changing a decision tends to be seen as a
really really bad thing. Changing a decision may be seen as a “climb down” or a
“U-turn”. Oh - how the press (and the opposition) love it when someone in
government changes a decision. They are vilified, pilloried, criticised and
hounded. Which is really really strange because a bad decision that was changed
is definitely better than a bad decision that was not.
Of course, people want right decisions, but all decisions
are made, on the basis of understanding the context the decision was based on
and the implications that were known to exist at the time. Implications could
be positive (something that is wanted) or negative (something that is unwanted)
and the same decision could produce positive and negative implications at the
same time for different things. For instance, there may be a positive
implication for the Decision Maker (because a short term goal will be achieved
- their bonus) but a negative implication for the Thing or Object in question
(because a long term goal is compromised – an increase in costs). So, as well
as a Decision Maker understanding the implications of their decision, they also
have to evaluate and balance these implications in order to arrive at a
There are two types of roles involved in any decision. The
Decision Maker, whose job it is to make the decision, and The Decision
Executer, whose whose job it is to carry out, or execute the decision.
So, let’s understand the Pragmatic
way of making decisions.
1. Decision Makers make decisions (driven in part by their
own personal culture) about things or objects.
2. Those decisions are based on understanding the high level
context about those things, the high level implications the decision will have
for the thing in question, and the implications for the person making the
3. Decision Executors (driven in part by their own personal
culture) will carry out decisions, but will also consider the implication of
decisions for them.
4. By attempting to carry out the decision, they will dig
into more detail and will almost certainly discover more detailed Context
(errors in, or changes required to), and/or more detailed Implications (errors in,
or changes required to) that the Decision was based upon.
This, in turn, may require a change to the decision made.
The Pragmatic fundamentals
to apply are:
Information about the context or implications that a decision is based
upon is shared between the Decision Maker and Decision Executor.
As the decision is executed, it is highly likely that the Decision
Executor will discover new information, that changes the context, and/or the
implications that the decision was made upon, thereby possibly requiring a
change to a decision.
Therefore, while the Decision Maker is responsible for making decisions,
decisions, should be a collaboration between the decision maker and decision
executer, and this collaboration must continue
after the decision is made.
Any changes to a decision should not be viewed as mistakes, backtracking
or U-turns or any other negative connotation to be avoided and hidden, but
instead should be encouraged and celebrated.
This thought process is not what normally happens in
Enterprises though. What normally happens is more confrontational. People tend
to talk more in terms of decisions being wrong or flawed. But if we take away
the instances where someone is literally incompetent, we can say that there are
no bad decisions, only unknown or misunderstood context or unknown or
We have to be careful however, not to forget that a decision
not only has implications for the object the decision is being taken about,
but also implications for the person taking
the decision. Depending on their Personal Culture (which includes how the
Enterprise motivates them in terms of money, job security and career
progression). If the Enterprise rewards people with bonuses for plundering the
future for short term gain today, then you can hardly blame the person if they
make short term decisions which plunder the future.
It is therefore critical to instil a culture that actively
encourages this thought process to happen, rather than one that actively
discourages it. Rather than discouraging and denigrating people who expose new context or implications
(that may cause decisions to be changed) and trying to hide them, people should
be encouraged and applauded for exposing new context
There are no bad people. There are no bad managers. There
are no bad decisions. People make decisions based on the context and an understanding of the implications of those decisions, influenced by the
culture they operate within. All decisions are made within a context, and within that context
all decisions are 100% correct and valid. If they were not, the person
concerned would be deemed incompetent (which is another discussion). Other
people may not agree with a decision, but that is usually because they are
looking at the decision through the prism of their own context and their understanding of the implications. And so disagreements about decisions
are not actually disagreements about the decision itself, they are actually
disagreements about the context they were made
within, in addition to the Personal Culture of the person that made them,
and/or the implications that are known.
When people object to a decision, sometimes it is not the
decision they are objecting to, but the one or more implications of that
decision. Worse than that, the person objecting can think that the decision was
made specifically to create the implications they do not like.
So the way to change a decision is not to talk about the
decision per se, but to change the context the
decision was made within, or change the implications
that were known about, or to change the culture that
prevailed. But that will only work if the culture
allows the context to be changed or the implications to be changed, or the culture to be changed.
In fact, it could be said that Accountability is being able
to say “I made this decision because…”
“I made this decision because this was the context that was known to exist at the time the
decision was made, and these are the implications
that were known at the time the decision was made, and this is the culture that
existed at the time.
“An error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to
- Orlando Aloysius Battista