Who makes the decisions?


The person in charge makes the decisions. Right? But is it ever really that simple? Think about the past three decisions you made – aside from choosing what to wear or eat, most likely your decisions involved other people. And if you’re like a lot of people, even with those decisions you solicit others’ input. Decision-making isn’t a solo sport.

Organizations are by their nature groups of people working together to achieve a common goal. So does it make sense for decision making to be a solitary endeavor? Of course not! The risks of not including the right people when making decisions include failure to obtain critical information and lack of buy-in or resistance, leading to poor implementation and execution. And when you demonstrate a pattern of not considering others’ input or perspectives, you risk damaging both relationships and your reputation. So why do we often fail to include others when making decisions?

Speaking for myself, sometimes I feel so harried, and a decision seems either so urgent or so inconsequential that I just haul off and make an executive decision. It’s usually those times when I am rushing that I make a bad judgment call about whether I should have involved someone. Ultimately someone gets annoyed and I end up spending more time soothing ruffled feathers or reworking something than it would have taken to involve them in the first place. This “rush to closure” is a pattern that can lead to problems…

…Especially when paired with another common error – thinking you understand the issue so clearly and thoroughly, that others can’t possibly have anything more to add. The technical term for this error is “being a know it all” and it really irritates people (don’t ask me how I know). Even if you have all of the “facts,” you may be missing a certain take on those facts that will be really important to actually making the decision work. I may not fully appreciate how the decision would affect someone else because I’m not in their shoes. And some people feel that being involved – even if they have nothing to add and don’t stand to be affected by the decision – is a sign of respect. And whether or not you agree, that matters to keeping the social wheels of the organizational machine turning smoothly.

Finally, when you include other people in decision-making, they can help temper the biases you can’t help but bring to the table. Maybe you’re a rusher who just wants to check a box and move on; or maybe you are a ditherer who gets trapped in a data-gathering swamp and needs someone to haul you out. Maybe you tend to focus on the “facts” and disregard how people will respond to decisions; or maybe you are too quick to let your feelings distort reality. Maybe you are overly risk averse, or too willing to take risks. For better or worse, we all bring our own inclinations and preferences to bear on the situations we face, which is why two heads is usually better than one.

If I’ve sold you on the idea of inclusive decision making, you still might be thinking – do I really have to talk to *everyone* before I make even the smallest decision? Won’t that waste an awful lot of time? Nope, and nope. You don’t have to involve everyone, but you do have to take a little bit of time to plan before you decide that. It could be that you should make a decision on your own without speaking to another soul. Sometimes it’s just as frustrating to have someone knocking on your door unnecessarily wanting your input as it is to feel like you should have been involved but weren’t. Sometimes, you get to go solo. But it is also true that more of the time we should involve other people and fail to do so, which actually wastes time because it causes more back-end froth.

The pre-decision planning process is really simple. Before you go down your usual path, ask yourself: who should provide input, and who should be informed? Who needs to know, and who wants to know? Thusly armed, talk to people. Clearly communicate whether you retain final say-so, and be equally clear whether you are soliciting input or simply informing them. Otherwise, people may think you wasted their time asking their opinion and then disregarding it. Watch your language and non-verbals to demonstrate openness to their input, even it if counters your own. If you solicit input but then act like a honey badger when you get it, people are likely to think you were just trying to manipulate their perceptions, and that is worse than not involving them at all.

Including others in your decision-making process doesn’t mean giving away your power. It’s a way to make sure you make better decisions and simultaneously improve your relationships and reputation.


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