3 Poor Decision-Making Issues Cripping Your IT Team (PART 1)

John Barker

There is no greater stress when you are in charge than when it comes to making decisions in your business.  You may have plenty of data to support your decision.  You may have to use your experience and intuition to make a call when there aren’t enough supporting facts.  That’s part of the job of being a leader.

This applies to both senior company leadership and the functional IT Manager. Technology is the backbone of most organizations.  The manner you make decisions has a direct impact on the overall strategic direction of the company.  Even the day-to-day operations can be affected by the decisions you make or don’t make.

Unfortunately, I have had more than my fair share of experiences where the ‘decision maker in charge’ just wasn’t good at making and executing decisions.

After 25 years, the most common issues I’ve run into are: avoiding decisions, wishy-washy, going rogue, emotional, decision fatigue, and the know-it-all.

I want to break these down in a bit more detail with specific examples that I’ve faced.  It’s important for you to identify these traits in yourself and improve as quickly as possible.  Or someone even on your team.

These poor decision-making behaviors cause team unity to fall apart.    Projects take way longer than they need to be.  There are way too many surprises and too much re-work.  There is wasted energy. Projects start to fail and the blame game begins. And finally, people have enough and the good ones just leave.

Let’s fix this.

1.      Decision Avoidance

I’ve been dealing with a long-term client.  The business has been in the process of shutting down for several years now.  There are over a dozen legal entities and hundreds of millions of dollars involved.  This is a family-owned business.

Surprisingly there has been no transition plan in place.

Family members have been thrust into business leadership roles with zero experience.  Problems have been emerging with a lack of communication and direction.  Only in the most extreme legal circumstances do other full-time staff members hear from the new head of the business.

Problems that have occurred because of this have been how to cover payroll, information for taxes, information gathering for Big 4 accounting firms, daily IT operations, and do people still have jobs.

Emails and phone calls go unanswered.  Communication is a one-way street when someone higher up the chain wants something.  Other than that it’s crickets.

The CFO and I were faced with a situation where the existing office buildings were being sold off.  There was a lack of broadband at the facility, so all IT operations were hosted internally.  We knew the facility was being sold but we never received a good timeline.

Simultaneously, significant hardware and software for the company were approaching the end of its life.  This would have been a prime time to move many systems to the cloud.  But if we were staying in the current office longer than expected or moving to another rural facility we would need to keep machines in the building.

I even pushed to have the team become remote work so the systems could be moved to the cloud.

However the CFO and I received zero responses.

We had to sit down and make a call.  She would assemble a team to begin the process of packing the office and we would continue to have the IT equipment hosted in the building.

3 months after we were forced to decide with the facts at hand, the office moved to a place with broadband access.  We could have saved a significant amount of money by reducing internal IT operations by moving to the cloud.

If we only knew sooner what was happening.

2.      Decision Wishy Washy

You will find yourself in a position to reverse a previous decision.  You get a new piece of information that changes course.  Hopefully in enough time before you get locked into a bad decision.  But you cannot be wishy-washy with your decision-making.

A few years ago, I was dealing with a client who was crystal clear on the direction they wanted to go.  I always ask clarifying questions just to make sure.   Then a bad pattern started to emerge.  Two days later the decision would reverse course.  Then two days after that it would go back.

Then a new situation would appear.  A snap decision would be made.  Then reverse course again.  Nothing would stick and it became extremely irritating and difficult to work in the environment.

I could not continue to work in that environment.  I probably should have confronted that head-on.

If you are going to change course with your team.  Be clear about why.  The excuse of well they are getting paid to do it, won’t fly too many times.  True professionals want progress not redoing the same work they did yesterday.

The cost and timeline for progress greatly increase If wishy-washy decision-making is the norm.

3.      Keeping Decisions a Secret

What is the exact opposite of avoiding making decisions?  Going secrets.

This is when a leader makes a decision and then never informs their team until the very last minute.

I experienced this earlier in my career.  I was the senior network engineer and functioned as the assistant director of IT.  We had a team of 7 at the time.

The company that I was working at was chasing a $10 million investment.  It was a lot of long days.

The company was growing very quickly, and this investment would really ‘unleash the dogs’.

I knew the major investment was looking good.

But then on a random Tuesday I walked into a lot of new people and a new boss.

The company had secured the investment round but kept secret from the staff all the changes that were going to take place.  My direct supervisor was in the know but also kept the details from me.

The IT department doubled overnight.  The team was split into multiple functional units.  My supervisor thought I would get the full-on director of networking role (which didn’t happen), but never said anything.

I had a new boss who was a middle manager at another company.  No direct knowledge or experience of running computer networks. It didn’t go well.

The IT department was one of the hardest hit with new staff and changes.  This was just the start of random ‘do it because I told you so’ type of decision-making.  From where we sat in the office to the type of equipment being used.  I didn’t last a full year after that.

The environment became toxic.

I never understood how they managed to conduct those interviews in secret.  Not even water cooler rumors.

If you have to keep your decision-making a secret you are in for a bad time.  You know deep down your team will not accept the changes well.  This makes it 100X worse.

You don’t respect your team enough to be upfront with them.  If the decision is enough to make them want to look for another job, then support them.

Productivity will crash because they will be going through the 5 stages of grief when the change needs to be implemented, instead of dealing with it ahead of time.

The benefits of identifying and correcting these behaviors

Not every decision you make will be popular.  But the hard decisions need to be made and communicated to your teams to achieve the best results.

The times to identify this in yourself are when you feel like things are getting worse.

Did you communicate effectively? Did you stick to the decision you made (and remember it)?  Did you spring the decisions on your team at the last second?

Treat your team like the professionals they are.  I told you so is never a proper answer. Your team is not your children regardless of how my companies say “We are family”.  Explain the rationale behind the decision you made.

Don’t hold a grudge against people on your team for any personal decisions they may need to make.  Support them.  Transitions will go much smoother that way.

Don’t forget to look in the mirror.  It’s easy to blame others.  Self-reflection is harder.

We’ll finish part 2 next week.

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John Barker

John Barker

John has over 25 years of technology experience and earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management & MBA.  He also holds CISSP and PMP certifications.

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