Is the role of the manager to make decisions, or to make sure that decisions get made? The answer, of course, is both — but many managers focus so much on the first role that they neglect the second. The reality, however, is that decision-making often is not a solo activity, but rather an orchestrated process by which the manager engages other people in reaching a conclusion. Doing this effectively not only improves the quality of the decision, but also ensures that everyone is more committed to its implementation.
There are many ways to facilitate this kind of engaged decision-making, but here are two examples:
Several years ago a new senior leader was brought in to lead a large financial services business that was in need of a turnaround. Making this happen required a series of weekly decisions and tradeoffs about deals, marketing alternatives, internal investments, and human capital that affected most of the senior management team. While it would have been easier and faster to simply weigh the pros and cons of each issue and then give directions, the senior leader realized that her managers understood the implications better than she did, and that if they didn’t fully support the decisions, the execution might be compromised. So everyone had to be engaged. The problem was that the managers all approached the problems differently and had trouble reaching consensus — so they kept pushing the decisions back to her instead of hashing them out amongst themselves. To shift this pattern, the senior leader started holding her weekly team meetings on Friday afternoons, telling the group that she was prepared to stay as long as necessary until they reached agreements. The first few meetings stretched into the night, but eventually the team learned how to make decisions together — and how to get home for the weekend.
In another example, the division president of a manufacturing firm took an alternative approach to the same dilemma. Because the business was highly functionalized, senior managers realized that decisions in one area affected the others, so they escalated almost everything up to the president. While this made sense on paper, in practice the president became a bottleneck in the decision process, and everyone became frustrated with how long it took to get things done. To break this logjam, the president began to push back on each decision that was brought to him by asking a series of boilerplate questions such as, “How will this affect our customers?”; “Who else needs to be involved in this decision?”; and “What’s stopping you from working with your colleagues to figure out the right thing to do?” Eventually, through this repeated process of Socratic dialogue, the team members began to work through the issues with each other first, and brought far fewer decisions up to the president.
Every manager needs to make sure that decisions are made and implemented, whether it’s for an entire company or a small team. And while it may seem easier to just make the decisions yourself, in many cases this won’t lead to the best outcome — nor will it increase your team’s capability to make future decisions. The alternative, however, is not to shy away from decisions, but rather to create an orchestrated process by which the right people are engaged, including yourself.
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