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Many organizations claim that they have a problem with decision making. Maybe, or maybe not. There are at least three types.

Type 1. It’s impossible, difficult or a nightmare to make decisions. Why? Pick a reason: premises not clear; too many cooks, to many people involved; risk aversion, etc. People are stuck. Decisions are always postponed. ‘People can not make up their minds in this place!’

Type 2. Decisions are made. Actually, it is not that difficult. The real problem is that nothing much happens after the decision is made. ‘People don’t follow up’, is the common expression.

Type 2a. ‘People don’t follow up’: People who need to implement are lazy, and lousy. Managers of the people who need to implement are also lazy and lousy. There is no implementation ethos, no sense of urgency. Why is this possible? You don’t need to have a PhD in Psychology to understand: not doing something has no consequences. Translation: people can get away with murder. ‘Excuses management’ is a cultural competence.

Type 2b. ‘People don’t follow up’: Decisions are made but the level of credibility of the people making decisions, or the leaders above sanctioning, for that matter, is weak, perhaps close to zero. Why? In part because they change their mind all the time and a week later another decision will be made that sort of overruns the previous one. So, actually, not implementing is quite clever, it’s energy saving, and part of the survival kit. If you wait long enough to implement A, you will not have to do it because you’ll have a B. And if you wait long enough to implement B, you may meet a C soon. And the year is long enough to accommodate an entire alphabet.

So, the generic ‘we have a problem with decision making’ does not say much until you deconstruct the problem. In my non scientific, consolidated survey of my own consulting work as organizational architect in the last years, and backed by my teams’ views, Type 2B is by and large the greatest problem, followed by 2a and a long way away from Type 1.

Gold medal, the winning is, Type 2b. Decisions are made but not implemented as a ‘energy saving’. The problem is hardly ‘decision making’; it is trust, credibility, reputation, leadership, good management, you name it.

Silver medal, Type 2a. Decisions are made but there is a very lousy/lazy (non) implementation, and ‘that’s ok’.  The issue is also not in the decision making itself but in the culture of performance (or lack of) and a poor reward and recognition system that allows people to get away with it.

Distant Bronze, a true decision making issue, type 1.

I’ve seen many true exaggerations of 2a. Company cultures where nothing happens for days, or weeks, where employees (and managers) could be absent and nobody would notice; where decisions are virtually dis-connected from implementation. By the later I mean, it is simply expected that it will not be implemented, or not just now. The pleasure has been in the decision. And the powerpoints. You may think that I am talking about medium size companies, poorly managed, about to go under, and just terrible. But I am talking about big corporations at the top of so and so ranking. No kidding.

Obviously, in these machineries (the word company or organization should not be used) some slow motion parts of the engine room may have no immediate consequences in the movement of the super tank. And it moves, and moves, veeeeeery slowly. Despite a few hundred decisions not live.

Key point is, avoid using ‘having a problem in decision making’ as a generic. When you hear that, dig in. You may find trust, credibility, positive reinforcement of lack of performance, anything. Sometimes decision making.

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