We seem to talk incessantly, but have a hard time making a decision. Dialogue is not decision making. Dialogue is the process for sharing relevant information. Talking things through does not necessarily mean that everyone shares in the making of the decision.
A determination must be made regarding the method of decision making appropriate to the task at hand. This is usually left undecided, or certainly left unspoken. When there is no clear line of authority, deciding how to decide can be quite difficult.
Consider the decision to place a student in a remedial class. Is that up to the teacher, their parents, a combination? Whose decision is it? How about something as simple as where to go to dinner, or as complex as how to spend a limited budget?
There are four types of decision making options: command, consult, consensus, and vote. Voting is seldom used in business so I will focus on the three “Cs”.
Three Primary Methods of Decision Making
In the case of a command, one decision maker places a demand. This can come in the form of a safety mandate, speed limit, taxes, or directive to take out the trash. With command decisions it’s not our job to decide what to do. We agree to the commands as a member of the community. In some circumstances, we may not want to take the time to get involved and gladly turn over the decision to others. When a command decision is determined, explaining the why behind it can make the what easier to complete.
Consulting is a process where the decision maker invites the views of others before making their decision. First, you must determine WHO the decision maker is. Consult decisions involve gathering ideas, evaluating options, making a choice and then informing others of the decision. This can be an effective way of gaining support without getting bogged down, but you also run the risk of information paralysis. Consulting could be effective when an IT Manager is selecting a new drafting software or an HR Manager is determining a location for an annual retreat event. The pit fall of consulting others is that they erroneously think they also get to make the decision and can be let down when you don’t do what they think you should do.
Consensus involves discussing an issue until everyone honestly agrees to one decision. This can create unity but if misapplied, it can cause a terrible waste of time. It should be used when everyone absolutely must support the final choice. Consensus only works when everyone has the best interest of the whole in mind.
When deciding how to decide, ask yourself a few questions. Who cares? Who must agree? How many people is it worth involving? The goal is agility, choosing the most useful method for the decision being made and for those affected. Command, consult, consensus. Each type has benefits and drawbacks. Effective decision making is essential to improve workflow and get to alignment. How will you decide?
Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler (2002). Move to Action chapter 9, Crucial Conversations