Decisions aren't a problem it's getting things done

Aug 16 2007 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Sometimes headlines can be deceiving. For example, an article here on Management-Issues last week proclaimed "British Managers Dithering and Incompetent"

That sounds like a statement of fact. But what it actually says, in essence, is that managers are perceived to be dithering by the people who work for them. Ahhhh, now that's an entirely different situation.

As someone who isn't British but spends an inordinate amount of my time defending middle managers on The Cranky Middle Manager Show, I will tell you I do not dither. It's an unfair perception and I take umbrage. I also take Lipitor and Prilosec since high cholesterol and heartburn are the occupational hazards of my trade, like Black Lung Disease for coal miners, but I digress.

Like most managers in the middle of organizations, I can make a decision easily enough. What I can't seem to do is make anything happen once I decide. That's an entirely different matter, thank you very much.

To see where that perception comes from, you need to look at how decision-making happens (or doesn't happen) in most organizations. So I've analyzed the process in a mythical company where I might work were I not so happily employed in the highly competent organization where I currently toil.

Analyzing process in your own team is akin to doing a prostate exam on yourself

Let's face it, analyzing process in your own team is akin to doing a prostate exam on yourself; even if you possess the necessary flexibility it will be uncomfortable at best, painful at worst, you'll feel terribly exposed and when it's all over you're a little embarrassed and likely won't have any idea what to do with what you've found.

Still, it's easy to understand where the perception of "dithering" comes from. Let's take a look at a typical hypothetical scenario:

The team comes to you with an idea, but it will cost a little money to implement. You listen and congratulate them on their hard work. You turn it over in your mind and decide that it's sound and will work nicely. You just need approval- a rubber stamp really. So you promise to get back to them by Friday with a decision. Eyes roll and heads bob knowingly.

You turn to your computer and send out the email to the four involved parties. A glow of satisfaction surrounds you. You get three "Out of office" messages. No problem, you tell yourself, Friday's still a go.

Through the week you go through two meetings and an email thread that would exhaust Tolstoy. You stress the importance of the deadline and the quality of the suggestion. You keep ensuring your team a decision is imminent.

Among the staff, the over-under on the decision date is now three weeks from Thursday.

So as the deadline looms, you have a series of ugly choices to face:

1) You say nothing at all and await a decision so you can triumphantly announce it to the team on Friday. You can't say yes or no because you don't have final authority so you say nothing at all. Lacking any other data, the team decides you haven't really made up your mind.

2) You are a good team player and don't want to blame your superiors or pass the buck so you let them think you're "still working on it" and "there's a lot to consider but we'll make a call very soon". Meanwhile, you stew, stall and sweat it out, the deadline looms Your team thinks you've forgotten and/or haven't bothered to take it upstairs. If you have it's not with much conviction. Basically, you don't care and you're not really advocating for them.

3) You admit to your team you can't get anyone over your pay grade to make this a priority and you'll miss your Friday deadline You like the idea. You care. You're advocating for them, you're just completely ineffectual and useless. Of course you've just spent 3 weeks haranguing them about accountability and the importance of hitting their numbers, making this option even less attractive than usual.

Great choices aren't they? All this time you're in limbo and everyone around you is painting their own scenario of what's going on- none of them with you as the hero. You are dithering, lazy or useless.

Of course once management DOES make a decision (long after the original deadline of course, and in a form completely unrecognizable to the original proposers), you get to hold the team accountable for implementing it.

Don't even get me started on what upper management is saying about the odds of THAT happening . . .

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.

Older Comments

Well, influencing decisions via emails is not very effective.

You don't mention what decisions and agreements were made in those two meetings. That's where 'making something happen' happens.

It sounds like your staff believed your superiors were going to make the decision, but when was their expertise brought in? Were they involved in the meetings? Sometimes the manager cannot effectively advocate because he or she does not have the requisite expertise.

One approach is to seek input from the decisionmakers on the idea before asking for a decision. This causes them to consider the proposal and either a) adopt the idea as their own - then it'll get done! or b) raise questions that your staff can address.

Patricia USA

I work for the largest aggregate producer in the US. I have 44 yrs in the industry, 37 yrs for this company in various catagories of management & plan on retireing within a year. I would like to write a constructive critique on mirco management & the effects it has on middle management & send it to our CEO prior to retireing. I don't believe he recognizes or sees himself as a micro manager & the larger our company gets (we continue to grow) things get slower and opportunities lost. help?

Russ Austin Fresno, CA