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A framework for making decisions

Rather than relying on an implicit framework and hoping things work out, we have an explicit framework for making decisions.

Portrait of David Jarvis
David JarvisFriday 17 April 2020

In the absence of explicit frameworks of power and decision making, an organisation will form implicit ones. This can lead to internal power struggles and institutional inertia as nobody knows who is truly responsible or how to make a collective decision.

Rather than relying on an implicit framework and hoping things work out, we have an explicit framework for making decisions. Note that as a [hopeful] bank we will have places where a given specific decision-making process will be more prescriptive.


  • Make decisions quickly. As a startup, we don't have infinite time or money. Slow decisions mean death ☠️. We aim to make decisions quickly.
  • Make decisions correctly. Our status as a bank means certain errors can be very costly. We aim to make sure decisions are properly thought through to ensure we make the right call.
  • Have clear ownership. It's hard to make decisions when it's not clear who the decision maker is. We aim to have no ambiguity about who owns a decision.
  • Get everyone's buy-in. Re-litigating past decisions only leads to inertia and animosity. We want everyone to be on board with the decisions we make. Note that this isn't about consensus‍—‌it's about a framework where people can get comfortable with a decision even if they disagree with it.

Autonomous by default

You are empowered to use your best judgement when making decisions that are unlikely to find disagreement within the rest of the company and where the wrong decision would be easily fixed. Trying to figure out if a page should be called "jobs" or "careers"? Just make a decision yourself! We should waste no time on things that are inconsequential.

Hierarchic fallback

If the decision is of larger consequence and you're not sure what to do (e.g. is it worth developing a custom feature for this customer?), ask your colleagues for advice. If it becomes clear that the right decision is not obvious or is likely to be contentious, you should appoint a final decision maker quickly (by default, this should be your direct superior).

The final decision maker is empowered to make the decision directly themselves, to transfer their authority to the right person in the organisation to make the decision, or to ask their superior in turn.

Truly contentious issues may bubble up until a member of the Executive Committee has to make a call. That's okay! Being the final arbiter of hard decisions is literally their job.

Disagree and commit

It is important that decisions are made with full information, and so we encourage open discussion and debate in line with our core value of transparency.

However, once a decision has been made, that's it. Whether you were on the winning or losing side of the debate, you are expected to get behind the decision and give it your full support going forward. We do not second-guess our decisions or revisit them until or unless new information emerges that makes the decision worth revisiting.

Acknowledging mistakes

Sometimes, we'll get things wrong. When there is new information that shows that we made the wrong decision, we should acknowledge the error quickly and take the appropriate corrective action. In some cases it may be worth having a post-mortem to understand what led to the decision being incorrect in the first place.

Strong opinions belong to the informed

Everybody wants to be thought of as a thought leader. But have you ever spent any time with people who describe themselves as thought leaders? They're intolerable. They believe their job is to have an opinion about everything, even if it's not important or something they know about.

Don't feel like you need to have a strong opinion about everything that comes up for discussion. Discussion should be driven by people who have relevant experience or expertise, or whom will be highly impacted by a decision's outcome.

Data informed, not data-driven

Having solid data can be invaluable in making the right decision. However, making a decision based on where the data leads you without any qualitative considerations can lead you down a dark path. Consider Facebook, which iterated on its product in a data-driven manner until it became one of the most addictive products on the planet that everyone hates.

Solid data has a role in our decision-making process, but it's not a trump card. Knowing when the right answer will be driven by qualitative rather than quantitative factors is challenging, and teasing apart the correct answer is the purpose of open discussion and debate.