When Target Canada decided to close up after just 2 years of operation they put 17,600 people out of work, 133 leases in limbo and a reputation that is still under repair. Someone had to make a very tough decision and own it.
Last week I wrote about the art and science of decision making. One of the most important phases of decision making, suggested the post, is the preparation: research, listening, weighing alternatives, addressing risk and more. It all goes into sound decision making.
Another key part of the decision making process is the question of whether or not you are the right person to make the decision or is someone better positioned to make the call? A good leader will look at his or her strengths and areas of responsibility and decide who will make the call.
Roy Osing (@RoyOsing) is a former executive vice-president of Telus. He wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail Leadership section recently that addressed this issue.
In his article he suggests that as a leader enters into the process of decision making, he or she has two important questions to address: are you the right person to make the decision and in the end, who will own it?
On the first question, Osing suggest that there are key areas in which an organizational leader must make the call and own it. They are: the strategic plan, the organization’s culture, the people, the customer experience and what he calls the alignment of all activities to the game plan. All decisions made in these areas must come through the organizations’ leader because there is no negotiating on who owns it in the end. One can delegate as much as they want but the final work and thus responsibility comes right back at them.
In all other areas, Osing infers, a leader must trust the team and allow people to make decisions and own them.
There are two levels of decision making at play here: the immediate decisions and judgement call that one is required to make day in and day out and the long term game plan decisions that will affect the whole organization for months and years to come.
The immediate decisions come from subject matter expertise, industry knowledge and even just gut feel. They are made with the short term in mind and often come with a risk level that can be managed going forward. In other words, make the decision, live with the call and be prepared to take responsibility regardless of the outcome. These decisions are not future making and not life or death for the organization. They do not alter strategy, culture, our people or our customer experience.
A strong leader should be able to delegate these decisions to direct reports or other senior people with the confidence that they will be made with the right preparation, execution and follow-up. Ownership lies with the decision maker.
On the other hand, the longer term decisions are made with a lot more consultation, hopefully. The level of risk is reduced somewhat as more people and data is involved as the issue is studied. These decisions typically fall into the core game plan areas that Osing mentions. These are critical to the organization’s future and must be made carefully and thoughtfully. No delegation here. Whether it be a singular decision or one that involves many decisions and details, the buck lands and stops in only one place. That’s what leadership is all about.
Leadership means making sound decisions, short and long term, and owning them. It also means delegating the many other decisions and allowing people to take responsibility.
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