Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought provoking. They always follow our motto of helping develop logical leadership.
Do you or your organization find yourself wanting to make a decision and not being able to do so? Do you find that you have gathered all the data you can get, considered the options but can’t decide which way to go? Is that indecision or lack of a decision? We offer a distinction. Indecision is an individual’s inability to make a decision. “No decision” is the organization’s confusion as to how a decision is going to be made. Both are harmful to the organization.
Decisions that have a deadline force a conclusion. Should we extend the lease or find new space? Should we make a tax-efficient investment for this tax year? Should we hold a Holiday party? These questions have deadlines and a decision is put off until, and made by, the deadline. In contrast, decisions that have no deadlines often lead to indecision. Should we open a branch in that other town? Should we hire an additional marketing professional? Should we invest in the development of myself or my people? In most of these situations you are convinced you should do so eventually, but wonder if now is the right time. Leaders sometimes spend considerable time thinking through the issue, often spending more in the cost of their time than the cost of any risk they might undertake in the decision.
Indecision is usually the result of an individual’s unwillingness to take risk. Usually they have considered all the options but are unable to predict how the future will unfold in order to evaluate which option is best. Decisions are actions taken today whose validity will only be realized when the future unfolds. In fact, if the best option for a difficult decision becomes self-evident, you might well be accused of procrastination! The best way to deal with indecision is to have a self-imposed deadline, preferably declared publicly. Also useful is to recognize that you can make an overt decision not to make a decision until a future deadline. Again, such a deadline should be established and declared publicly. These techniques force you to minimize wasted time and yet bring closure.
A lack of a decision is often a bigger organizational problem. You often find people in the organization claiming, “No decision has been made on that issue.” What it really means is that they have no clue as to who, how and when a decision is going to be made. Whereas indecision is usually a characteristic of questions without a deadline, a lack of decision can be found in both questions with and without a deadline. A lack of decision is really an implicit decision to let the default status quo prevail. Lack of decisions maintain status quo and inhibit change in the organization. Organizations become stagnant and slow to move.
Arguably, decision making is the most common activity of management. Organizations must have a clear decision making process. The leader of the organization should establish the process and promote its deployment throughout the organization. While we have our opinions on the various decision making processes (see Consensus is a Road to Mediocrity), any process is better than no process. For a full discussion on four styles of decision making (Consensus, Democracy, Authority and Command) contact us for a full length article.
Both indecision and lack of decision is harmful to the organization. Much time is wasted discussing issues that yield no conclusion. The leader is responsible in both cases: for their own indecisions and the organization’s lack of decisions.