When Decisions Aren’t Reversible
Jeff Bezos has gotten more than a few things right leading Amazon.
One of the more insightful distinctions Bezos made in the early days at the company was to distinguish between decisions that were reversible and those that were not. He wisely promoted different decision-making processes for the two distinct camps of decisions.
One-way decisions are those choices that can’t be easily reversed. Leaders need to tread carefully and deliberately as they make one-way decisions. They simply require too much effort or expense to roll back for the decision to be anything less than a fully deliberate process.
Decisions of this nature can’t be rushed. They demand a process that reflects the consequence and complexity involved. There is a myriad of rational decision models leaders can choose from to help make these nearly irreversible one-way decisions.
Two-way decisions, on the other hand, are those choices that, if need be, can be changed or altered. A leader can test drive the decision, see if they like it, and return to select another choice if they so choose. These two-way decisions can be made quickly and deserve a process that is not cumbersome or complicated.
Organizations that fail to distinguish between one-way and two-way decisions commonly treat decision-making as a one-size-fits-all process. By applying a full-blown decision process to all decisions, leaders gum up the works. The ability for leaders to make fast decisions about less consequential and reversible choices disappears. This often creates bureaucratic thinking that slows down every choice and makes straightforward decisions highly painful.
In the best organizations, two-way decisions are made by subject-matter experts or small groups composed of those who intimately understand the issues surrounding the choice.
By increasing the ownership and autonomy around two-way decisions, leaders empower team members and trust them to exert the influence they desire on matters that most affect them. This not only makes the organization more nimble, but also galvanizes trust by granting decision rights to those who deserve them.
When it comes to more strategic and consequential decisions, however, decision-making needs to follow a more complete pathway where analysis is followed by debate and reexamination.
Reaching consensus after this deliberate process increases the odds that major decisions will further enhance the power of the team and not derail it. Saving this exacting process exclusively for one-way decisions makes the organization both effective and agile.
An organization that can’t decide the everyday choice with speed soon becomes bogged down by bureaucracy and red tape. When it comes to making quality decisions, sometimes the enemy comes from within.