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 THREE: HOW WE DECIDE AND UNANIMITY OF SUPPORT
Basically there are three standard methods used for reaching a group decision. I have participated in them all and see little reason to suggest one over the other. They each are effective, depending on the understanding each group member brings to the decision process and what happens after the decision is rendered.
Groups headed by a strong number one often agree — or are given no choice — to let the boss make the decision, usually after each of the group members has had their say. I remember once naively asking a forceful boss if we would vote on various matters to which she simply replied, “why bother when my vote is the only one that counts”.
Still voting is the preferred method of many corporate groups, with majority rule carrying the day. With this method it is especially important that voters refrain from the practice of horse trading votes that usually characterizes parochial-driven bureaucratic politics. The goal is to make a corporate decision.
Finally, some groups opt for a consensus approach to their decisions. This approach requires the group to agree on some method for determining when an actual acceptable consensus exists and then sticking with it. For example, does a consensus require 100% agreement? Or as one company I once visited had decided, is 70% agreement an acceptable decision point? Generally, the consensus approach implies something more than a simple majority but less than everyone’s agreement.
Whichever decision method a group selects, the most important factor is what happens next. I remember once being told by a very senior corporate executive “around here, first we decide and then the debate begins”. I recognized that process instantly from my management experience, as I am sure many of my readers will.
When this happens, no decision has actually been made. More debate is simply a continuation of discussion. Worse, many groups hold on to the fiction that they have really decided something, ignore the fact that implementation is indefinitely postponed, and allow the debate to continue until it exhausts itself. I know, sounds crazy but it clearly serves the purpose of those who did not like the decision from the start and adopt the ongoing debate as a means to euthanize it This is bureaucratic politics at its best or worst depending on your point of view but not a corporate decision making process.
So, the final key element of making a specific decision is the unanimous agreement by all group members that they will fully support and participate in the implementation of THE DECISION regardless of their personal views. At this point, discussion and debate should stop. There is important further work to be done in rolling out and implementing the decision and re-litigating old arguments only gets in the way.
Some group members may find this hard. Some may feel they lost, while others dread having to defend the decision before their angry parochial constituency, who in fact will need to sacrifice something for the corporate good.
But without unanimous going-forward support for a given decision, creating an effective corporate decision process is impossible.