There is a whole spectrum of possibilities when it comes to decision making authority. In organizations that value structure and control, policies and procedures form a framework for day-to-day work. Policies, range from very granular, dictating all imaginable actions, others are flexible enough to allow discretion yet provide structure. Then there are organizations that have no structure at all. When there is no structure, employees who need it suffer and complain, those who don’t may be comfortable in this environment.
Decision making is sometimes hoarded as a tool of power. This approach to decision making can cause persons affected by the decisions to feel coerced. In other organizations, decisions empower employees and lead to engagement. In actuality, decision making can be a tool for growth, allowing leaders opportunities to try new ideas, involve others, and learn from mistakes.
There are various levels of complexity of decisions within an organization. There are strategic decisions made by the executive team and Board of Directors. Then there are decisions that can happen within parameters set by the strategic plan. These are programmed decisions that are guided by the organizational chart, job descriptions, policies, and procedures. Finally, there are personal decisions that impact employees both at the personal and team levels.
Situational leadership is important when it comes to decision making because while some employees prefer to have decisions made for them, others prefer the freedom to make decisions for themselves and participate in decision making for the team.
Involving other in decisions is an invaluable practice not only for the previously mentioned reasons, but also because when a decision maker is not directly involved in the process being decided upon, he/she cannot possibly consider all the important factors. Additionally, their decisions can be influenced by external pressure to get work done, causing them to overlook important considerations.
Another reason why including others in decision making is helpful is because it serves to disperse power among many, empowering more persons at once. No longer is the decision owned by a single person, it is shared and bought into by the team and when the chemistry of the team creates unity, the quality of decision can improve.
When the intentions of persons making decisions is to serve the greater good, this frees organizations from the grip of power games. When power games prevail, decisions can be coercive, they can be weak, they can be late, or they can be right on time. Serving the greater good requires a shift from personal agendas, and this is no easy feat.
Important and complex decisions should integrate as many points of view as possible when a quality decision is the desired outcome. This means team members should feel safe to participate, not having to choose their words carefully. This operates best when coworkers are capable of objectivity. They don’t allow emotion to cloud their judgement, nor do they become so devoid of emotion that they cannot allow empathy into the decision. In other words, decisions should be balanced, with just the right amount of empathy and objectivity.
Leaders need cognitive skills for critical thinking and critical thinking is an essential component of decision making. Building sound critical thinking skills can lead to powerful question generation, use of available information, assumption evaluation and understanding the implications of alternative actions. Over-used critical thinking skills can lead to decision paralysis and bottlenecks.
There are persons who have been praised or burned for making decisions, others are rewarded or punished for not making decisions. As a leader, decisions are unavoidable. Some are programmed by policies and traditions and others are more complex, falling outside the scope of the familiar.
When making decisions, the first step is to recognize the fact that you need to make a decision. While this may seem obvious, sometimes leaders don’t perceive the opportunity, or sometimes they do but they do not perceive that they have the power to impact the circumstances. The third category of persons perceive the opportunity and use it to drive progress. Once you perceive the need, the next step is to analyse the problem then decide on the criteria that need to be met in order for alternatives to be generated. At this stage, a decision can be made.
Sometimes decisions are made after no alternatives were considered. At other times alternatives are presented but it is clear that there is only one choice. In some circumstances, none of the alternatives are ideal. If this is the case, you can try to redefine the problem or the criteria for success before settling for the best of substandard options.
Decision making cannot happen in a vacuum. Leaders should possess effective communication skills, ensuring decisions are clear and received at the right time. Decisions should be presented in a way that is mindful of the equilibrium of the team, sustaining engagement and possibilities for growth.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.