Who’s Making the Decisions Around Here?

POSTED: Dec. 13, 2016

Program ParticipantsIn my last article, I wrote about two of the common traps decision makers can fall into. In this article, I’d like to share two key questions that must be addressed when making a decision – who should make the decision and who should be in involved in the decision. The answer to the first question is pretty straightforward – generally it’s the individual who is in charge. But the decision maker has some options when it comes to the second question. Let’s explore them.

There are four styles the decision maker can choose from when making a decision:

  1. Authoritative
  2. Consultative
  3. Participative
  4. Consensus

Authoritative is when the decision maker gets no input before making the decision. Consultative is when the decision maker gets input from individuals before making the decision. Participative is when the decision maker gets input from a group of people before making the decision. And, Consensus is when a group of people makes the decision. Before discussing the selection of these styles in decision making, it’s important to know that there are two significant parts of a great decision making process:

  1. Quality Thinking
  2. Acceptance/Implementation

Quality Thinking is where the question the decision is about is determined, outcomes are identified, information/options are gathered and analyzed, and a decision is made. A lot of people think the decision making process is over at this point. However, what good is all your quality thinking if the decision doesn’t get accepted and implemented? I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this article have experienced quality thinking poorly implemented when it came to a decision in your workplace (or in your personal life). Acceptance/Implementation is where the decision comes to life and impacts the organization in a manner that achieves the outcomes on which the decision was focused. Research has found that the style the decision maker uses to make the decision can have a significant impact on the decision maker’s ability to get the decision fully implemented and sustain the decision.

In 2002, Professor Paul Nutt at The Ohio State University reported results from a study of over 400 decisions that had been made by managers in medium to large organizations. He interviewed key participants in the decisions over a two-year period after the decisions were made. He concluded that over half of the decisions were never implemented or unraveled within two years after the decision was made. Professor Nutt collected data on many aspects of the decision making process and found that though some decisions failed because of cognitive issues such as poor framing of the decision or biases like I wrote about in my earlier article, a more significant factor in the success of a decision was the involvement and participation of key stakeholders in the decision. Decisions that used participation to foster implementation succeeded more than 80% of the time. Dr. Nutt’s findings remind us that great decision making is not merely a matter of quality thinking, but also of ensuring that the decision will have the necessary support and commitment to be effectively implemented and sustainably achieve results. Note that three of the four styles of decision making listed above involve some form of participation.

Besides fostering the successful implementation of a decision, the use of participation in decision making can have other benefits such as building positive relationships among group members and aligning group members with the goals of the organization. One of the negatives I often hear about participation is that it slows down the decision making process. Though I agree with this observation, I’m not so sure slowing down a decision is necessarily a bad idea (unless you’re in an emergency situation where immediate action is a crucial element of success). A more deliberative decision making process can often help you avoid many of the common decision making traps such as confirmation and overconfidence bias (see early article).

So how do you know which style (Authoritative, Consultative, Participative or Consensus) to use when? Dr. Victor Vroom of Yale School of Management has devoted his career to understanding the links between decision making and effective leadership. His work resulted in a set of seven situational factors that when held up against the decision at hand will answer the question as to which style is appropriate. Two of the factors address “leader expertise” and “group expertise.” The less expertise the leader has with regards to the decision the more expertise the group (typically the leader’s direct reports) have, the more you should lean towards Participative or Consensus and avoid Authoritative. Two of the other situational factors in Dr. Vroom’s model address “importance of commitment” and “likelihood of commitment.” These factors have proven to be a huge predictor of a successful implementation.

In closing, participation and what form it should take are significant factors in making great decisions. Next time you find yourself in a decision making situation consider the style you use and who should be involved. If you’ve already made a decision and the implementation is not going well, consider that you may have used the wrong style. I look forward to seeing you in a future Making Great Decisions program where I promise you we’ll look at decision making like you never have before.