Making great decisions is a key leadership responsibility. If you choose the wrong decision-making style, you could face a disaster. Choose the right style and you’ll make decisions faster and more effectively.
When you make decisions, there are four decision-making styles that you can use. There’s an Autocratic style, a Participatory one, a Democratic style, and a Consensus-based decision-making style. Your choice of which of those four styles to use is driven by two things. First, the urgency of making the decision – from low urgency where you’ve got plenty of time to make the call, to high urgency where you need a decision right now.
The second dimension to consider is the size or impact of the decision, from small decisions that won’t have a large impact, to big decisions that are going to have a huge impact. As you look at which style of decision making to use, you need to consider both of these dimensions.
For situations where you have low impact and they’re reasonably small decisions, but they get larger as urgency goes up, an Autocratic decision-making style is the most appropriate. In Autocratic decision-making, decisions are made at the top. Buy-in is not seen as an important aspect of making this decision. And actually, it may be counterproductive to involve a lot of people in making the call. Typically, in an environment where you’re making Autocratic decisions, work activities and roles are very tightly structured, they’re monitored and well controlled. Command and control is very important in these situations.
For larger decisions where there’s higher urgency and you need to make a call soon, but the impact is going to be big, you’re looking at a situation where you need to use a Participatory decision-making style. This is where you’re going to make a decision with input from the people who are going to be impacted in that final call. Remember, Participatory decisions are made when the decision is much bigger and there’s a lot more risk involved. Getting that additional information from more people is going to reduce that decision making risk. Also by getting that buy-in, you’re reducing execution risk because people have had an opportunity to give their input and have a say in the final call that’s made.
For situations where it’s a large decision but there’s no urgency around it and you’ve got plenty of time, you can be using a Consensus-based decision-making style. This is where decisions are reached with a cross-functional team. People from different departments have input, and buy-in is essential. You should reserve this style of decision-making for the biggest decisions you’re trying to make. However, recognize this can take a lot of time. You have to get everybody saying “yes” before that decision is made. You’re going to have individuals from multiple groups, multiple functions, all working together, coming up with that final perspective for the final decision.
And last, for mid-sized decisions where there’s not a lot of urgency but you do need to make a decision and move on, a Democratic style is the most appropriate. This is where a decision is reached by a majority vote. Buy-in is desirable but it’s not essential. These are the decisions we just have to make and move on with life. Individuals are going to interact in this style. You may have a committee where people are going to come together, form an opinion, but ultimately we set a deadline, we vote and we move on.
As you select a decision-making style, remember to consider the urgency of making the call, and the size or impact of that decision.
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