McCadden: Why an Owner Needs to Be a ‘Decision Engineer’

by Kyle Clapham

I am going to throw out a New Year’s resolution for aspiring remodeling business owners, particularly those who want to create a business that will someday run on its own and no longer need them to micromanage things. I want you to consider becoming a “decision engineer.” A decision engineer is someone who is skilled at helping others make decisions.

Let’s say you master this skill of helping others make decisions. From there you could potentially teach and mentor others on your team to also become decision engineers. Imagine the benefits to you, your business and your employees if all managers and lead carpenters knew how to make their own decisions—decisions that are always in the best interest of the business. Like many other business activities, there’s a process for making this a reality.

Most people either do not know how to make decisions or are not confident in making serious decisions at work or in their personal lives. That’s another benefit. Decision engineers often improve their personal lives by knowing this skill.

Then there are your prospects and clients to consider. Why would you spend time putting together a proposal for someone who doesn’t yet know how to make a decision or is unsure they will be making a decision at all?

That would be like putting the cart before the horse. Maybe they don’t know the process they’ll use to decide whether to move forward with a project. Maybe they don’t have a process for selecting a contractor. As a decision engineer, you can save a lot of valuable time by quickly helping potential clients determine if you can do business together. By knowing how they plan to make their decisions, you can prepare your proposal in a way that includes what they need to make a real decision.

3 Steps to Engineering Decisions

There are three basic but important steps you need to take to be a decision engineer. The first step is to uncover a person’s true motivation. An individual’s motivation depends on their perspective and point of view. If the person is a prospect, you’ll need to know the reason why they need a particular project completed. What should the project solve for them? For example, maybe it’s not just a new kitchen they seek. Perhaps they want and need a new area setup, so mom can cook and keep an eye on the kids while they do their homework.

For your employees, why would they want to continue working at your business versus another? As a decision engineer, you’ll want to know both their professional and personal goals. The question then becomes: Can they achieve those goals by staying and growing their careers at your business?

Second, you need to think about budget. This can apply to both prospective clients and employees. You need to know their “real budget,” but don’t just think about money. In the case of a prospective client, determine what they can spend or how much they are willing to invest to get, solve and accomplish what is truly motivating them to consider doing business with you.

In the case of an employee, find out what they’re willing and able to do to advance their career. Is that carpenter willing (and can be available) to take classes on his or her own time and be mentored by another employee to become a certified lead carpenter to earn the money needed to put a deposit down on that first home they’ve been dreaming about?

There is always a cost involved, whether it’s money, time or effort. From there we can decide if their budget is adequate to meet the cost of the solution before we even consider offering one.

The third step is about the decision-making process. You must uncover or help the other party zero-in on how they will make their respective decisions. As I mentioned above, by knowing how they plan to make their decision(s) we can prepare and share the critical information they already told us they needed in order to come to a decision.

If the other party is a prospect, you’ll want to know the importance of speaking with a previous customer about the performance of your company, or a particular lead carpenter or how clean and safe the jobsite is kept during construction. There’s no need to create an estimate and write up a proposal if they’ve not already done the due diligence and are confident. If they won’t do the required due diligence, I believe there’s no sense in proceeding with an estimate.

If the other party is an employee, you’ll want to know what they’ll need to make their decisions. Will they need to speak with their family before committing to class time outside of work? If so, will they find out and get back to you right away? Will they want to see in writing how as they evolve from carpenter to certified lead carpenter their compensation will increase? If so, do you have a pay grid?

I hope you can see a decision engineer always does things in a strategic order. Making a good and confident decision is a process. If you skip a step, you risk not getting a decision or, worse, failing on delivering what the other person really expected. Remember, you are the engineer. If the situation fails, that is on you.

Become a decision engineer first. Then create a team of decision engineers at your business. This will put you on a bright and profitable path. With a team of decision engineers, you will find it much easier and less stressful to make decisions. Eventually your employees can take over many day-to-day decisions, freeing you time off to play golf and to attend your child’s school recital.

A true decision engineer is always a decision engineer, not just occasionally when he or she remembers to be one. Force yourself to use this process every day for 30 days. If you do, it’s likely it will become a habit. QR

Shawn McCadden is a speaker, business trainer, columnist and award-winning remodeler with more than 35 years of experience. He can be reached at

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