'The Alignment Factor': Decision Making and the Culture of Alignment
This is the seventh in an exclusive series of articles from Total Alignment authors Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem titled "The Alignment Factor." Check back in every Thursday for new installments.
In an aligned organization, people are working together toward shared goals with each individual adding his or her talents to advance the mission and vision of the organization. An essential element in creating this result is the decision-making process. How decisions are made will affect the motivation, collaboration and commitment of the members of the organization.
Traditionally, all major decisions were made by the "boss," i.e. the owner or CEO. This was a command style of management defined by a "buck stops here" mentality. While enabling one person to quickly decide the fate of many, this style also deprived the many of feeling ownership, commitment, responsibility or even loyalty to the organization. Unfortunately, remnants of this decision-making style still exist in the cultures of many companies.
Outside of the military (which of necessity has its own culture) there are very few occasions where a command decision-making style is the best choice. If you are faced with a problem of significant impact and an immediate decision is urgently needed, a command decision might be appropriate. You take charge, make the decision and announce it. You address the urgent problem immediately.
What are the drawbacks of making a command decision? The decision will suffer from not having the valuable input of knowledgeable people in the organization whose involvement could have improved the outcome. It could also alienate those who have a stake in the decision by disempowering them. A decision is rarely needed so immediately and urgently that there's no time to involve others.
If you are forced to make a command decision alone, consider how you communicate it to others. Rather than saying that you had the authority to make the decision and you made it, you might explain why you made the decision and why it had to be made immediately.
In some organizations, decisions are made by teams in a consensus style where everyone has an equal say. This is the other extreme from command style and comes from a culture of inclusiveness, where everyone's opinion is given the same weight and, in an effort to ensure equality, major decisions are voted on. The positive aspect of a consensus decision is that it belongs to everyone and therefore everyone will have a sense of ownership and hopefully make that extra effort to make it successful. So what is the downside?
The downside is that not all decisions should be made by everyone. Not everyone has the same scope of vision about the company. Not everyone has the same historical perspective on the past history of the organization. And not everyone is detached from how the decision will affect them personally. For example, in an enthusiastic mode, your team might decide to spend a large amount on a specific marketing project, while you as the president know that it is not cost effective. Further, you are the one who has to have the cash to pay salaries, something your people aren't as aware of. Like the command style, consensus decision making might be appropriate in certain situations. However, in many cases it isn't the best choice.
The approach to decision making that works best for an aligned organization is consultative. A consultative decision is made by the person in charge, but only after he or she has consulted with those who will be impacted. In reality, the huge majority of decisions benefit greatly from having input from others, even from those who usually don’t agree with you. In this model, people's opinions are welcomed, listened to and respected, but the owner, boss or CEO has the final say. During the consultation, the person in charge should take notes, listen carefully and treat each person's input with respect. Because people feel they have been listened to and have had a chance to put forth their views, they will respect the decision. They will accept that they have influence but don't have authority to make the ultimate decision. This style will greatly increase their "buy-in." Once the final decision is made, it needs to be communicated with courtesy, an explanation of the reasons and a request for and expectation of their full support.
A delegated decision is one that you don’t make. If you have delegated the responsibility to one of your direct reports in the area where the problem originates, then you should delegate the decision as well. If that person comes to you and asks for your solution, avoid the temptation of giving instructions or taking over the decision. People often want to "delegate problems upward," but it's important to allow the other person to handle it. This sometimes proves difficult, but the only way to develop leadership capacity in others is by letting them make the decision. You can give them support, but they need the freedom to make mistakes and learn. If you are a successful entrepreneur and your company’s internal processes are well defined and accountability is delegated, most of the day-to-day operational decisions should be delegated.
Impact on Culture
The culture of alignment involves distributing decision making throughout your organization. The four types mentioned above serve as a guide at each level, with consultative being the preferred choice. A healthy decision-making process encourages collaboration, increases the involvement of people at every level and empowers the workforce — all important characteristics of alignment.