Contributed Column

Personnel Points, by Dave Mount, Westaff

Be Decisive

I went through quite a process over my career to become decisive about most business matters.

When I was just out of college and working in management for the first time, I had a mantra to “never make an irrevocable decision.” Fortunately, that one did not come back to bite me.

I worked for Mattel Toy Co. and my manager was a man who would take everything “under advisement.” In other words, he would postpone every decision for as long as he could.

One of the many problems with this strategy is that I or whoever was waiting for the decision would have to explain the rationale behind the problem again and again as the manager weighed and reweighed the decision that he might never make.

I decided after this experience that I would always be a decisive manager. The amount of time, energy, and cost of our employees is much too valuable to waste waiting for a decision about what might be a fairly routine matter.

This is not a license to make decisions in a vacuum. I think it is important to involve as many people in a decision as possible. That does not relieve the manager of the responsibility for the decision; it just provides him or her with exposure to the maximum number of opinions and alternatives.

I worked in North Carolina for a few years in the early 1970s as the VP of finance of the U.S. division of a multi-national company. North Carolina was still a bit backwoods then and employers were still minor deities. I asked an opinion on a matter from one of my employees and she answered me with the comment, “What are you asking ME for? You’re the boss.”

I was in North Carolina for about four years and this woman worked just outside of my office. I did not give up on her, and after a while, she became one of the most enthusiastic supporters of my form of participative management. She gave me an opinion on just about everything.

I think this is one of the most important aspects of management — gather as many facts as you think you need to make a decision. Facts will pour in. The job of management is to sift through these facts and make the choice.

I used to think that one had to be right more than half the time, but some of the greatest managers of all time — people like Jack Welch and Louis Gerstner — have lowered that bar considerably. Gerstner believed that the number of good decisions he made was a pretty small percentage. Welsh warned about agonizing too much over a decision, because that saps a lot of energy from the other management tasks.

I never kept score myself. I certainly hope I made more good decisions than Gerstner talks about but I know that, if I carefully analyzed the situation, I probably did not. I think we built a very successful company, which had to have been built on good decisions, but I can regale you with stories for hours about some of the really bad ones.

All of this can lead to a checklist that, of course, is not all-inclusive.

1. Gather as much input as you can to make a decision.

2. Personnel decisions are much easier than they seem. They are difficult to make and carry out, but once done, they are done.

3. Be aware that affected employees might have special circumstances

4. Don’t worry about your own popularity. Bosses are not in popularity contests.

5. Carefully distinguish the important from the unimportant.

6. Don’t take too long.

7. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.

8. Make the decision. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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