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What have the last 17 months done for your decision-making processes? Do your managers delegate decision-making tasks more or less than before?

It’s an interesting question and conversations in the business world seem to suggest a broad mix of experiences. In the traditional workplace model, leaders and managers make the decisions – with varying degrees of input from employees – and the team takes the prescribed action. Now, though, many companies may be seeing a shift in the decision-making dynamic.

Despite the abundance of technology that has helped to keep us all connected during the pandemic, remote working has almost certainly changed the way we communicate and make collective decisions. A Zoom call is, in theory, just as good as an in-person chat, but it can be harder and slower to arrange than just popping one’s head around a colleague’s office door to ask a question.

For that reason, people may find themselves instigating fewer conversations because it seems like more of ‘a bother’ than it did in the office – resulting in more autonomy when it comes to decision-making.

Hold tight or let go?

It isn’t surprising that the move away from in-person, spontaneous collaboration would have some impact on the way decision-making is handled throughout an organisation.

In cases where managers have held tightly to their decision maker prerogatives, it could be about retaining power. But it’s also reasonable to assume that they may wish to save time by not consulting with or delegating to team members who might not be immediately available.

Conversely, where we see more decisions being made by lower-level staff than would have been the case pre-pandemic, it is probably also due to the logistical constraints of remote conversations. If a bottleneck appears in the workflow because the team is always waiting on a decision from a busy higher-up, it could make sense in efficiency terms to move that decision-making task further down the chain of command.

Knowledge is power

Of course, I am not suggesting that key leadership decisions should be handed to people who are not qualified – either in terms of technical ability or institutional knowledge – to make the call. Such tasks should only be delegated to suitable people. However, perhaps our recent experiences have started to adjust perceptions of what a suitable person might look like in any given situation.

Good decisions can only be made when the decision maker has good information at their disposal. As a manager who is always responsible for making a particular decision, you probably hold more data or context about it than your reports do, which is why you’re the one responsible for it. However, is there any reason why someone else on your team couldn’t share in the data and make that decision instead?

If you feel they would lack the understanding or the confidence to make the call, consider what would happen if you shared the information that gives you the required understanding and confidence. You may even find that delegating responsibility helps to promote employees’ professional growth.

This may go against the old ‘rules’ of the hierarchical workplace system, where people’s access to information is determined by their paygrade. However, weren’t rules made to be broken? Also, involving more people in decisions can promote diversity of thought and reduce the influence of bias.

It puts me in mind of that hackneyed old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life. Much the same principle applies here. If you tell someone your decision, they can act on it. If, however, you teach them how to make that decision, they could actually take that task off your plate and free you up to tackle things that really can’t be delegated.

How have your decision-making processes changed lately? Do you believe that delegating decisions helps to build your team’s confidence? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Help your managers to delegate more effectively

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions and delegate effectively. Whether you are looking to gain a better understanding of your training and development gaps, build training plans across multiple teams, or need bespoke training solutions for a particular challenge, we can help identify your options and the solutions available.

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Mark Fryer

28th July 2021

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