To be a manager is to make countless individual decisions for which you will personally be held responsible and accountable. However, in most organizations managers collectively are also required to occasionally come together at various levels to decide and implement decisions that will impact their entire organization simultaneously. It is these latter collective decisions that I refers to as “CORPORATE”.
In this series of six articles I lay out a step by step process for corporate decision making that my experience has demonstrated both helps groups arrive at and implement sounder decisions, and provides the sort of management accountability for their decisions any organization has the right to expect from those in charge. I suggest reading them in order because each step builds on what comes before.
STEP TWO: GROUP MEMBER REQUIREMENTS
I have been a member of quite a few corporate decision making groups. As an individual member, I evolved an approach to my participation that felt right to me. But on many occasions, I was uncertain whether all of us in that room shared a common consensual view of what was expected of us when it came to PREPARATION for our meetings, or PARTICIPATION requirements during those sessions themselves.
I believe the most effective corporate decision making groups are those where all participants have agreed to a collective norm around preparation and participation behavior and then hold each other collectively accountable for meeting those norms. The group chairman may wield the largest hammer in maintaining behavioral discipline but peer pressure is often a more effective long-term incentive.
PREPARATION — Simply put, the most effective discussion and decision meetings are those where all group members have done some prior research, reading and thinking designed to allow a more well-informed discussion of the issue or issues at hand. Making this happen requires a specific agenda announced in advance and the dissemination of appropriate material for review by all group members.
The most effective groups usually create a position I call the PROCESS MONITOR who carries out a series of critical functions at various stages of the corporate decision making process. The Process Monitor ideally is not a voting group member. His or her role is that of a support administrator whose initial activity is the dissemination of meeting agendas and advance material.
PARTICIPATION — Here I am not simply suggesting that it is sufficient for all group members to have said something or other during their meetings. Yet I have left many such meetings feeling that was precisely about all that really happened; an aggregate of isolated comments that accomplished little to move an agenda forward.
Participation in the most effective corporate decision making meetings requires all members to frankly and honestly express their views, regardless of personal discomfort with conflict, who may disagree, whose feathers may get ruffled, or any potential political or bureaucratic consequences. It is about open honesty that allows a full and thorough airing of the broadest possible range of perspectives relevant to the decisions under consideration.
Sound corporate decisions demand a clash of ideas and a thorough examination of the facts and data from a variety of angles. A dedication to make this happen should underpin the participating behavior of all group members.
It usually takes time for most groups to gain comfort with the emotional rough and tumble involved when ideas and perspectives clash. And it is important that the group itself ensures that exchanges never get personal. The goal is to examine the ideas and the quality of the arguments of others, not their personal worth.
Consistent failure to adhere to the group norms for preparation and participation is grounds for replacing members on the most effective corporate decision making groups.