HOW SHOULD I DECIDE?

In a recent blog, I wrote about the importance and buy-in value of involving subordinates in decisions that will directly or indirectly impact their work and/or personal lives. I reiterate the point here because subordinate buy-in is often the essential ingredient to the success of your decisions.  But how to actually decide once such consultation is complete?

For many managers, this is a more difficult question to answer than it may seem. Assuming you have not simply decided and implemented a decision without consulting anybody, there are generally three options available to you after your consultations are complete.

You can take a vote. 50% agreement plus one and you have a decision. Assuming your vote was part of the 50%, this approach is likely to seem satisfactory and fair from your perspective.

But what if you, as the manager, strongly believe the 49% view was the better or correct option? Do you over-rule your managerial judgment and abide by the majority, no matter how slim? If you commit to your subordinates in advance to the voting approach, you are likely to feel stuck, your better judgment not withstanding. So where does your management responsibility lie in this circumstance; with the vote or your own best judgment?

To avoid this dilemma, many managers opt for seeking some form of collective consensus among their subordinates. While this approach generally takes more time, it has the advantage of increasing buy-in when consensus can be achieved and of affording you an opportunity to hear a wide range of views on the issue at hand.

Some organizations have codified the consensus approach in what they call the 70% Rule. Discussion continues until 70% of any group reach agreement and then that agreement becomes the decision. Debate ends, second-guessing and grousing ceases, and the group moves on. While I, as the manager, always loved it when a clear consensus emerged, on especially fractious issues it sometimes never did.

In his book “Leadership is an Art”, Max DePree reminds all of us who manage that “participative management is not democratic. Having a say differs from having a vote“(P. 25).  As a fairly junior manager, I once asked the Chairman of a Personnel Review and Promotion Panel of which I was a member if after our discussions and debate we would take a vote. “Why waste the time”, she replied, “mine is the only vote that counts”.

At the time I thought her response rather autocratic. In time, however, I came to appreciate the insight and wisdom of her response. In the most important sense — accountability — hers was the only vote that did count, since only she would be held responsible for every decision the panel made.

To be a manager means to be accountable for each and every decision you make and you make quite a lot of them.  Moreover, your superiors will expect you to always exercise your best judgment in making these decisions, regardless of how you approach them. This, I tell my clients and participants in my workshop, is a large part of why the job of managing is so stressful.

When a decision of yours does not work out or when your boss disagrees with something you did, just try telling her or him that although you knew better, the majority vote or group consensus forced you to act against you better judgment. Then ask yourself “how did that work out for me?”

Above, I posed the question where does your management responsibility lie when it comes to making decisions. It lies in making the very best decisions you possibly can — based on what you know, at the time you must make them — that you believe are in the best interest of your organization and its employees.

You can and should consult as widely as you like. But advice given and the opinions and views of others are free. Your decisions are not because whatever the outcomes, they rests on your shoulders. Thus, in the end, you get to choose  and making that choice, by exercising your best educated judgment, is how you should always decide.

2 comments

  1. I think this is a great article. I’ve worked for several employers in the past where they flat out said I’m the manager so you HAVE to do what I tell you. It was a very micromanaged environment with very low morale.

    Key point – you can still get buy in from your subordinates and STILL manage!

    1. Brooke……thank you for the compliment. All of us have had to endure a micro-manager and it is never fun. You just survive. I always tried to remember the pain and the impact on unit morale, and to avoid making it my management style

      I hope you will keep reading my Blog — there are 54 posts at present — and that you will encourage some of your colleagues to do so. It is very gratifying to know that some posting is of value to a reader.

      Feel free to comment at any time and to suggest a topic I might address in a future post. Cheers. TERRY

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