Reasoned Decision Making

A top complaint that I hear from non-founder friends about founders’ is their knack to constantly change their mind. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can relate to both the founders and employees. Ultimately, I realized that the problem is less so the constant change and more so with the style of communicating new decisions.

As a founder, priorities can change in a heartbeat, especially in early stages. This is further complicated if you have investors and partners because when you are still in the “lost” phase of a start-up, you tend to be much more receptive to drastic change in direction. But it is just as important to not only communicate your new decision effectively but also keep a pulse of how well your new decision is resonating with them.

The most damaging thing a founder can do is deny that he is revising a prior decision. I am not totally sure why founders do it. My hunch is that some do it because of our human tendency to appear correct and some do it simply because they are unaware of their prior decision. In either case, I think the founders are setting up the team and themselves for a huge failure.

Personally, I try to be very explicit when I change my mind about something. I may straight up say that “One week ago, I said I wanted to build blah, today, I am changing my decision and I will explain why.” Note that this may seem slightly dry but there are plenty of meetings that I have walked out of when simple and dry reasoning and clarity was what people wanted instead of a mixed, unclear message.

In addition to being clear about going back on a decision, I like to think of the top 3-5 variables that led to the decision. Then, if I need to go back on that decision, I will bring up those 3-5 variables based on which the earlier decision was made and point out what changed since. Often, a new variable could be introduced. Or our value for an existing variable proved to be inaccurate.

Let’s take a common example that plays out at start-ups across the world daily. You find yourself in a meeting with your team members to announce that you are dropping Product A to focus on Product B. You focus on how awesome the team is, how this new plan will be successful and how this is a great market. Meanwhile, the team is thinking “yeah–but I’ve heard this same speech last week” and “why can’t we make up our mind!!.”

A more methodical way to communicate a shift from Product A to Product B would be to begin by stating the assumption that led the team to work on Product A. Point out what the team has learned about Product A since. Next, point out the precise data points(conversations, stats, observed behavior etc.) that convinced you that Product A should be dropped. Now that you have laid the foundation, you can state your precise data points that lead you to believe that Product B is the way to go. I would also go out of my way to point out the potential risks to be aware of as we pursue Product B. This instills confidence in your team members that you have really thought through this decision. Finally, I encourage team members to poke holes in my reasoning. Let them rip it apart now and perhaps even compel you to make a few adjustments to your assumptions.

At the end of this process, everyone can walk away with a decision they understand, even if they disagree with parts of it. That’s much better than delivering an unreasoned or confusing decision wrapped in mushy words.