Better decisions by tracking outcomes

I've worked with folks in the past that thought the “ends justifies the means.” But let’s think about that on a timeline of ethics.

If you have to wait until the results to decide right or wrong, then on what did you base your decision? You decided to act with the evidence you had at the time of the decision. Shouldn’t the ethics of your decision have been based on that? If not, you are “guessing” or “gambling.”

A lot of people really do think the ends justify the means. But that premise means you don’t know the ethics of your decisions at the time of the decision. You are not acting ethically, you are just acting and the universe tells you if you were ethical or not. I find that disturbing.

Some things in life are chaotic and sometimes we have to take a chance. That’s fine. Just don’t say that you were being ethical. You were not. You were being hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic risky, gutsy, whatever — but you were not using ethics to make this decision. If the decision is not based on the full exploration of the facts, then it’s not based on ethics.

Who has the time for that? Good question. A different one than if the decision is ethical or not, but a good question. Sometimes you have to make decisions without the time to be ethical. I understand. But don’t claim later that you were trying to do the right thing. You did what you had time to do — you had no idea whether it was right or wrong.

At work, this harried confusion is often used to make horrible, unethical decisions which then get justified by “not having time to make a better decision.” If that were true, I’d be fine with it. But what I've seen most often are decisions made with the excuse that there isn't time to slow down and consider the options that end up costing the project a major delay. Orders of magnitude more delay than slowing down exploring the options.

There is a sect of management that will throw these “considered explorations” under the bus of “analysis paralysis” almost as if by rote. Remember, management is used to making soft decisions. They are not designers, craftsmen, developers, or architects. These practices and crafts have ethics in their best practices, leading practices, and metrics. Managers who automatically throw careful consideration under the bus can be easily identified because they are the same managers that don’t map decisions to outcomes in any track-able way. At least not until they want to place blame, and then it will be anecdotal.

Deciders who make these rushed decisions take advantage of this time gap (between the poor decision and the poor outcome) to spin the lie that they didn't have time to do better. And for some reason their colleagues accept this even while dealing with the serious delays caused by the bad decision. Businesses truly have short memories and the poor decision makers rely on this.

One of Yev’s Six Simple Rules for Business Complexity is to “Increase the Shadow of the Future.” One way to do this is by keeping track of these poor decisions and making them highly visible.

It’s counter intuitive to suggest keeping track of outcomes will result in more ethical decision making. At first glance it’s as if I’m advocating that the ends do justify the means. I’m not. I’m saying that the lack of tracking allow those hoping that the ends will justify the means to get away with horrible decision making. If they know they’ll be held accountable, they’ll make better decisions or at least leave the decision making to those with the patients to ethically consider the options.

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