Making good, effective decisions

One of the primary elements in the construction industry that truly separates the successful companies from the not-so-successful companies is the ability to make good, effective decisions. And yet it's one of those areas of our businesses that we usually don't spend a lot of time thinking about. Oh, we think about the decisions we make, just not about how we make them.

In years past, we hired and promoted our people into supervisory positions based, in a large part, on their ability to make fast, bold decisions that would keep the project moving forward. But we can no longer "shoot from the hip" and pick the option that will just get us through today, or maybe just the next hour. Today we must make decisions using and absorbing more information than ever before. Decisions still need to be made relatively quickly, but we must have a sound process for making sure we've made the best decision.

If you want to get your people focused on a sound decision-making process (and if you haven't been involved in a good five-step program lately!), consider the following:

First, classify the decision. For example, what area does the decision relate to, such as safety, blueprints, hiring, productivity, etc.? Is the decision unique to a particular project, customer or vendor, or is it a common or generic issue? Generic issues usually have a precedent, having come up on previous occasions. They often involve a policy or regulation that helps guide the decision maker toward the right decision, and these decisions are usually able to be made more quickly and efficiently.

Second, we need to define this decision-making opportunity. What is it, exactly, that we are deciding on? What resources do I have, or need, to make this decision? What is the level of importance or urgency of this decision? Defining the opportunity clarifies the direction and focus of our thinking as we analyze all of the data available relating to the issue. Another helpful way of looking at this is to write down the situation as it exists then write down what the situation would be in its "corrected" state. This can focus you on the path toward making the best decision.

Third, determine what the right decision is, not just the acceptable decision. You can get closer to the right decision by asking some basic questions: What results do I need to gain from this decision? What results does my boss expect from this decision? What decision will be best when I look back on it three months from now? Often we make the decision that will get us through the day. Sometimes that is the right one, but we must always look to the future. If you think three months down the road you will be saying to yourself "Why did I do that three months ago?", then you should reconsider the decision you're about to make now.

The fourth step in our process is to make the decision. And making the decision is more than just deciding what you're going to do. No decision is really made until action is taken. To convert the decision into action means determining what that action will be, who will be impacted, who needs to know and how it will be carried out. Most decisions made by construction leaders are actually carried out by someone else. They must have the understanding and ability to accomplish the necessary tasks to see it through. It is also important that those carrying out the decision know why the particular decision is being made and what considerations went in to making it.

Finally, the process of making a decision is not complete until the effects of the decision are reviewed and evaluated. Construction leaders must learn from both the positive and negative ramifications of their decisions. And, assuming we've made the best decision, we can determine if this can become a generic decision. The more decisions a leader can turn into generic decisions, the faster and more efficient those decisions can be made another time or by other leaders.

The pace of construction projects today demands that we make all of our processes as efficient as possible. That includes decision making. The successful construction company isn't the one lucky enough to get all the low bids. Luck runs out over time. Successful companies, with successful leaders, must continually make proactive, informed decisions. There will always be ups and downs and thoughts of "should've-could've," but your leaders can grow to make decisions with more speed, more accuracy and most importantly, with more confidence.

Brad Humphrey is cofounder of Gangbox, Inc., a resource for the construction industry. For more information about Brad's firm and other construction educational materials please visit www.gangboxinc.com .

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