A simple way to consider who makes which decisions at work

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A simple way to consider who makes which decisions at work

You may have read my recent article about delegating and the benefits of doing so, for the person who you are delegating to. If you didn’t, you can read it here. I wanted to build on this, using an idea featured in Susan Scott’s book ‘Fierce Conversations’ which you will have heard me mention before.

I believe the theory I outline below is really helpful, as it is not always clear who should make which decisions in the workplace. Often, people are fearful of making decisions, for fear they are ‘overstepping the mark’, others take decisions that are inappropriate and unless people know their line manager/project manager well, then it is a constant juggling act to decide whether or not they should make a decision, without more senior input.

Susan says that we should think of a company as a tree that grows and bears fruit. To make sure this happens, countless decisions are made daily, weekly, monthly. In order to get someone to think about the decisions a certain person should make, that person should consider the decisions they have successfully made up until this point; these are labelled ‘Leaf’ Decisions. Whether or not you have had a bit of input into these or not up until this point, from now on that person should make those sorts of decisions, act on them and not report back (unless presumably the outcome is of great importance to the more senior person).

The overall goal for an individual, whether you or a team member, is to progress i.e. to gradually progress from the current ‘Leaf’ level.

In terms of categorising decisions, the concept is that as you progress ‘down the tree,’ decisions have a greater potential for harm or good, in terms of the organisation as a whole. The behaviour Susan suggests for current ‘non Leaf’ decisions is as follows:

‘Branch’ Decisions i.e. the next stretch from ‘Leaf’ Decisions – make the decision, act on it, report the action you took, as required.

‘Trunk’ Decisions – make the decision, report the decision before you take action.

‘Root’ decisions – make the decision jointly, with input from many people. These are the decisions that if poorly made and implemented, could cause real harm to the organisation.

The thought behind this is that a trunk decision isn’t necessarily more important that a ‘Leaf’ Decision; a poor decision at any level can harm an organisation. However, one ‘Leaf’ Decision poorly made and executed won’t kill the tree, one at ‘Root’ level might.

Using this model helps people to think carefully about decisions they can make and hopefully creates a level of freedom. The goal of using the decision tree is threefold:

  1. To clearly identify which categories decisions and action fall into, so people know where they have the authority to decide and take action.
  2. To provide employees with a clear upward path of professional development, progress is clear when people move from one level of decision to another.
  3. To help companies create leadership throughout the organisation, empowering people at different levels to take responsibility (and also feel motivated as they can influence outcomes).

When people have information and a goal, they have the freedom to figure out how to achieve it and everyone is taking the level of responsibility they should be.

So are you taking enough decisions in your role? Of the right level? Do you struggle with which ones you can make? Do you struggle letting others in your team make decisions?

If you need some support with a barrier you are experiencing in your career (most involve people!), working towards promotion or stepping up in the role you are in, then Joanna Gaudoin can help. Her ‘Career Impact Programme’ helps you as an individual focus on the challenges that are holding you back, even if you cannot articulate them fully at this point. For a no obligation conversation, contact Joanna. You can also request her ‘Boost Your Career Success’ email series – just click here.

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