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Directive Decision Making


Directive Decision Making

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Introduction to Decision Making
Consultative decision makingWe talk a lot about decision making in our work.Included in that discussion, we frame at least three types of decisions people make in business. First, there are decisions that individuals make without consultation or collaboration in which, as singular leaders or managers, they get to own the responsibility and all its value or misery. The second type of decision is called consultative in which others add their points of view or expertise. This second type is still the responsibility of the manager or leader who begins the discussion, but at least they have acquired "input" from others. The third type, and the most time-consuming type of the three, is the collaborative decision. This requires two or more people sharing responsibility for a decision and requires more work, understanding and time.

This month we have divided up the articles into these three types of decisions and I have chosen to write about the power and purpose of directive decision making.  Craig has chosen consultative decision making and Lorraine has selected collaboration or collaborative decision making as her topic.  Our hope is that you will get a chance to view the various decision-making methods in a new light and to have a ready guide if you choose to use it.

So, let's get directive...In the early part of the 1990s deciding on a new career in organizational development, I became closely associated with an organization that felt that its employees were incapable of making decent decisions.  The rationale was that many of these people did not have a strong educational background that supported the idea that they could think in a complex business manner and many came from pretty humble roots (the poor kids).  It was, in fact, a very industrial, blue collar place with its share of assumptions about people, which the people in question seemed to live up to routinely.  Each and every decision, including what to do in case they couldn’t locate the product they were looking for, was made by supervisors.  They were assigned each day a piece of equipment, a product order, and a place to deliver that order.  Routine things like where to keep lunch and what to read on breaks were regulated and it went as far as to proclaim that a certain political issue or candidate would be in their best interest. 

Now for many of you who know me, you might think that I am speaking of my former employer here in South Portland because of the nature of the work and that would be incorrect.  In fact, my career with my talented and generous friends at Hannaford Bros. Co. inspired me to get into organizational development to begin with.  Much of what you see today in our work is the product of the many good things I observed while I worked there.  In contrast this organization chose to look at its people and decide to do things because they (their leadership) could decide more quickly and created less controversy by avoiding the involvement of people.  Now, I may sound openly critical of this organization while it is my humble effort at describing the atmosphere and the relationship between management and labor.  It also made decision making easy because to make a directive decision is much quicker and requires less work than the other two styles.  I will come back to the resulting effect of this at the end of my article.

Directive decision making has been around as long as decision making has existed and it is simply you the manager or leader deciding what you want, when you want it, and finding someone to execute your wish.  You may have thought it through or researched it.  You may have considered other alternatives and you may even have changed your mind several times.  The directive decision is simply an order to comply with and the person who issues the order owns the success and/or failure of that order. 

On the upside, directive decision making is quick, ownership is clear to everyone and doesn’t require a lot of input.  On the downside, it doesn’t include people, doesn’t allow them to learn, and doesn’t get their ownership beyond execution.  Additionally, when done to excess, it breeds dependent behavior. 

Dependent behavior…This is a condition that exists when people feel compelled to ask you for every answer.  As an example, young children are dependent because they have not yet gained the ability or experience to decide on the things that sustain their existence.  For instance, if you allow a three-year old to choose dietary needs, the child may choose cake for three meals each day.  When children become teenagers and have experienced some of life, they often crave independence.  If not given that independence, they rebel and as all parents know, that complicates and prolongs the process of child rearing measurably. To adopt directive decision making as the primary vehicle in an organization has the effect of treating adults like children.  If left for long enough, they will inevitably either leave (rebel) or become the age of the audience who cannot make their own decisions.

Back to my story of the organizations who felt that their people were incapable of good decision making.  The rest of the story reads like a revolving door of turnover and employees who have left to go to other organizations.  At those other organizations these former employees can be seen sitting around tables laughing at the methods and their own experience while they were there.  For that organization, they feel the constant cost of rehiring, retraining, not to mention the lost potential of talented minds and different points of view.  It always comes back to what we believe.  If we believe that people are talented, we simply need to find a way to release the talent and let them to it to its destination.  If on the other hand we believe that people are in need of our every direction and cannot or will not do the right things, the organization can lose valuable and talented people.  It is always in what you believe as a leader and what your organization supports as an employer.

In summary...

  • It would take more time to choose another style so, if time is the issue, then be directive. 
  • It would take a more educated audience if you chose another style so, if less educated is important, directive is your decision. 
  • It would take sharing ownership but, if that is not the intent, directive should be your choice.

Finally, it takes leaders willing to place as much importance on the ownership of decisions, education of the decision makers, and less dependence on their own knowledge to pull this off.   Check in with Lorraine's and Craig's articles for more on the other decision-making styles and look for our poll question in March to weigh in on your thoughts on decision making.

Touch base with you next month and best to all!

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Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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