Four Steps to Making Better Decisions

If there is any one differentiator from a good contractor from a GREAT contractor, it has to be the ability of the GREAT contractor to make better decisions consistently and faster!

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As important as making good decisions up and down the organizational chart of a construction company, there is often little to no time spent working to improve decision-making. It’s clearly one of those areas of our business that we usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. Yet, our entire performance effort and results are a reflection of our effectiveness of making better decisions.

In years past, most contractors have hired and promoted people into supervisory positions based, in a large part, on their ability to make fast, bold decisions that would keep the project moving forward. This fast decision-making was sometimes called “shooting from the hip.” 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.

Such short-term thinking is what gets contractors into trouble to begin with; deciding on perhaps the easiest decision to make rather than assessing what is actually needed…no matter the cost in time or resources.

With the greater seriousness of decisions to be made today, we must make decisions using and absorbing more information that 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.

The processing of more information to make a better decision is no different actually to the professional quarterback who must process many potential scenarios when reading the defense and then audible to another play…in less than 25 seconds. 

While this article may be important for the owner of any construction company, it’s just as valuable to any leader, heck, any employee, who is expected and counted on to make better decisions. That just about includes anyone who breathes!

If you want to get your people focused on a sound decision-making process, teach and practice the following four steps to making better decisions.

Step #1: 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.

Step #2: Recognize the decision-making opportunity

Not everyone, including many construction field leaders, often even recognize a decision-making opportunity when it surfaces. This may be due to a culture that just says “Work first, think second.”

As silly as that sounds, this is innocently practiced by contractors who dominate or micro-manage their workers, doing almost all of their thinking for them, and only expecting their workers to work.

Here’s what you should be teaching your workers, especially your field leaders at all levels.

  • What is it, exactly, that needs a decision made?
  • If I don’t make this decision, who will?
  • WHEN is the decision needed?
  • 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.

Step #3: 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 one, three, six, even nine 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 that 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.

Step #4: Make the decision

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. 

BONUS Step #5: Decision review and evaluation

The process of making a decision is not complete until the effects of the decision are reviewed and evaluated. Construction leaders, at all levels, must learn from both the positive and negative ramifications of their decisions. And, assuming they have made the best decision, they can determine if this can become a generic decision. The more decisions a leader can turn in to 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” will exist, but your leaders can grow to make decisions with more speed, more accuracy, and most importantly, with more confidence.

Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes working with contractors of all sizes and trades. For more information about Brad’s firm, please contact him at brad@pinnacledg.com

*This article was originally published in 2014 and republished in 2019.

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