The problem of managers and supervisors failing to make a decision, or constantly referring options upwards when they clearly have the authority to make the decision themselves is not new, and it is certainly not uncommon. Managers and Supervisors who won't make decisions are a prime cause of paralysis within a company, business or organisation. This paralysis leads to wasted time, effort, energy and money. The company's business is stalled and as a result progress is curtailed. But what is the cause of this inability to make a decision or need to run a decision past their boss?

I firmly believe that in the majority of cases the cause is a simple and almost understandable one. That cause is simply a fear of the outcome if it all goes wrong! No one likes to go to the boss' office to get a grilling as to what happened when something goes wrong as a result of their decision. It is our built in survival mechanism that drives people to avoid this negative experience, and the only guaranteed way to avoid this is to avoid making the decision or to allow others to make the decision for them.

So what can we do as enlightened leaders?

I would suggest that the first action would be to review ourselves. Do we really make individuals feel so bad when we are trying to identify the reasons things went wrong? Perhaps we do. Perhaps we don't. But it is essential that we check that we are not contributing to the issue we seek to resolve. Do we need to speak less accusingly to people as we debrief the past to improve the future? Do we remind individuals of all the good work they normally do for us or do we just beat them up over the one bad decision that they made on this one occasion? This self-reflection will ensure that we are being fair with our people. If we are fair with people they will feel less hard done by and thus reduce the fear of having to face the boss!

Secondly I would encourage the use of a decision making model as shown below:

The above model is a simple but useful tool to give a manager or supervisor that is unwilling to make decisions. If you follow the model from the top:

You have a situation that requires a decision, firstly review what policy and procedure says, then review what (relevant) legislation requires, take into account the organisation's risk appetite (this is how much risk does the organisation call acceptable) and at the heart of your choice should be the values of the organisation.

Once you have filtered your options through the model you pick the best option and make a decision.

Here is where you as the boss have to trust your staff, because when you give them this model, when they apply it AND evidence their decision rationale then you must tell them that you will support them no matter the outcome. This is the difficult part as there may well be times that the decision results in a negative outcome. You cannot now apportion blame to a decision made with sound evidence of having followed the model. Supporting someone that has made a decision that has cost thousands of pounds may be contrary to your intuition but it is essential that you do not break the contract you have made with your managers or supervisors.

The benefits however of this concept are numerous and will overall increase the speed at which your organisation processes change and deals with potential issues. The organisation will lose the lag that can stifle progress and innovation; it will also gain a culture of empowerment for all its people and gain engagement of those that feel disenfranchised.

Empowering your people to make key decisions at the right level will not only speed up your business, but it will increase responsiveness and free up your time as a leader to continue to set the direction of your company.

Article by Marcus Fillier of Performance Works.

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