Building a winning company isn't complicated, argues David House. It comes down to making and implementing decisions better and faster than the competition does. But just because it isn't complicated doesn't mean that it isn't difficult. Indeed, the first course that House taught at Bay Networks, and the one that he considers most important, was on decision making. Here are some class notes.
1. Wait until the last minute — but not a minute later.
"If you're not going to do anything differently tomorrow by making a decision today, then don't make it today. Situations change; markets shift. That's not an excuse to procrastinate. But the best decisions are just-in-time decisions. You should decide as late as possible — but before you need to take action."
2. Don't be afraid to argue.
"Conflict is good for an organization — as long as it's resolved quickly. Unresolved conflict is a killer. That's why real leaders deal with conflict head-on. They take individual feelings seriously, but then they get beyond those feelings. One way to make progress on a tough decision is to agree on what the question is. Agree on the wording and write it down. Debate often stems from having different ideas about what's being decided."
3. Make the right decision, not the best decision.
"People can spend months debating the 'best' decision without actually arriving at any decision. Every decision involves risk. And if there are 10 ways to do something, 8 of them will probably work. So pick 1 of the 8 and get going. Life's too short. You have 10 more decisions to make after this 1."
4. Disagree — and then commit.
"Not everyone gets a chance to decide, but everyone should have a chance to be heard. Without at doubt, the most vigorous debates yield the best thinking. But once a decision is made, you should not be able to tell who was for it and who was against it. Fully supporting decisions that have been properly made is a condition of employment."
A version of this article appeared in the October 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.