The cost of indecision

Eldeen Pozniak
“Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” I first saw this on Facebook and it made me chuckle, as being from Saskatchewan I pictured all kinds of critters on the roadway as they could not decide which way to go. And then I started thinking about it in the context of life and the work we do as safety professionals.

Indecision is a choice, one that allows a problem, at times, to become a crisis, poor performance to become tolerated performance and potential obstacles to become concrete roadblocks. As for leaders, this indecision is choosing inaction over taking action and that can hurt our program and our people.  I have been guilty of this. For me directly, indecision was about dealing with people and situations in my department and it created disharmony with the team, when I was just trying to avoid issues. I have also “put the blame” of program failure on the indecision of the group or company that I was working for at the time. 

Indecision has a unique way of turning seize-the-moment opportunities into missed opportunities. No matter how you look at it, indecision stalls forward progress. Please be clear that I am not talking about time to take informed decisions — getting the information necessary to make the best decision possible. At times, that can look like indecision if there is lack or poor communication during the phases of identifying the situation, gathering information, making informed decisions and taking action.

When a problem exist in your program or in the overall organization, just about everyone sees it. And the longer the problem persists, the deeper and uglier it gets. So once you, as a safety leader in the organization identifies it, engage and work to resolve it. We cannot avoid, ignore or procrastinate in addressing it. Employees become indifferent because they figure if you don’t care, why should they. 

So what are some things that you can do to keep indecision from wreaking havoc?

•Take the bull by the horns: We need to identify the situation, gather information, make informed decision, take action and communicate throughout the process. If we are advising and assisting the decision-makers, then we need to use our communication and engagement skills to highlight the situation, gather clear and concise information that motivates them into informed decisions and appointed action. Most times, inaction comes for either not knowing what to do or being scared of making a bad choice. So, researching best options and practices and creating a back-up plan, helps take away those two fears causing inaction. 

When obsessing enters the decision-making process, it is time to push forward with a decision. Chances are, the solution options are not going to get any better, but the problems certainly get bigger and more complex. It's time to run with your best solution. If it works great, you win. If works a little, tweak it. If it doesn't work, try the next best solution. For what it's worth, oftentimes the solution you didn't pick first, because it was harder and required more work and sacrifice, is the one you should have chosen.

•It's about the company and people’s safety within: As leader, you serve, protect and speak for the company and people within it. It doesn't matter if it's your company or not, it's not about you. When your fear, uncertainty or confidence issues get in the way of making the best decisions for the company, you become the problem rather than the solution. Confidence issues allow fear and uncertainty to take over and feed indecision. So I recommend stop beating yourself up. No one expects you to have all the answers. If the path moving forward is that unclear or the problem that complex, it's time to seek help. Meet with a few of your trusted staff, pose the problem and explore the shared solutions. Seek guidance from a consultant or a peer. You cannot unstick your company until you unstick yourself.

•Be realistic about the potential downsides: I always push indecisive leaders to answer this question, "What's the worst that can happen?" This is a part of risk assessment that we do with program initiatives and should be considered and communicated. Often there is a greater negative impact by dragging things out.  

•Dial it up or dial it down: Indecision dials back a company's sense of urgency. Indecision is like a ticker-tape parade of question marks that pile up around everyone and everything — and you're the one spewing the question marks. Question marks don't inspire and energize people to perform at the highest levels. No one is going to charge off toward "I don't know." It’s for the leader to decide where the company is going and how it's going to get there. Throw in a heavy dose of vision and "yes we can" and you can almost feel the sense of urgency cranking up. Indecision fades away because it has nothing to hold on to.