All about doors


A long time ago, Jeff Bezos in Amazon’s 2015 shareholders letter wrote –

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible—one-way doors—and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that—they are changeable, reversible—they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups. As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention.”

In short, a one-way door is a decision you cannot undo; a two-way door is a decision that you can undo.

One can safely assume that in life, most decisions are two-way doors. What differs is the toll fee. It is impossible to come back through a door without paying a toll fee. Sometimes the toll fee is negligible, sometimes it costs a bomb – and this is especially true of most decisions in HR.

Of all the professions in the corporate world, HR makes the maximum number of one-way door decisions or ones that come with a high toll fee. Take for example, decisions around hiring, letting go, compensation – all have a significant long lasting impact that is not easy to undo.

In addition, it is also extremely difficult in HR to know if you are making the right decision. In business, either you make money or you do not; you create a 5-star product or you do not. However, in HR you will never know if the person you bought on board is a better fit than the one you did not. You have no way of knowing if the performance management system you put in place is the right one until a year has passed; is the engagement survey that you designed a good reflection of the sentiment on the floor? You will never really know. More often than not, you will lie awake at night wondering if you made the right decisions.

The combination of dealing with one-way doors and not knowing how to measure success increases complexity when it comes to dealing with doors.

Therefore, here is my biggest takeaway – the moment you realize that a two-way door has a low toll fee, begin experimenting right away. Look for clues to check if you are headed in the right direction. Give it sufficient time and then if it does not play out right, pay the toll fee and open another door. Have fun with it. Two-way doors are rare in HR and deserve to be experimented with.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said – “Be an opener of doors.”


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