Current philosophy entertained by business leaders is that organizational decision-making is about avoiding choice, freedom, and risk in most business decisions and decision makers. Freedom of choice becomes limited when commentary regarding a message sent is restricted to the same channels and people. Choice and risk become pawns in the communication game when choice or risk are used as an excuse to shutdown responses or monitor using statistical analysis.
Ask yourself, “If an employee has a question about the message content, how would they ask, whom would they ask, where would the information to clarify come from?” If the answer to this is a manager, where does the manager obtain this information? Many business researchers and authors discuss improving communication that would open the innovation of front-line employees to improve the business. Yet, always the factors of liberty or freedom, agency or choice, and risk become insurmountable obstacles to obtaining that innovative idea needed to improve. In fact, several times it has been discovered that managers do not consider business communication part of their role or daily tasks. Where are your front-line employees obtaining their information on business communication; from a disengaged manager, a co-worker with tenure, or are they just sitting waiting further messaging?
Often the risk component is the all-encompassing reason to say, “No” when the answer should or could have been “Yes!” No single answer constitutes a guarantee of customer loyalty, and no decision-making tree spells out how to reach out to customers and improve business. Hence, decision-making is about training, guidelines, and patterns.
- Controlling risk is good; managing risk is a misnomer. Never should risk be the reason to avoid trying something new, allow more openness, and drive improvements. Controlling risk is an exercise; managing risk is an excuse. Embrace the risk, set specific controls, and work the controls into the business standards for performance.
- Place the decision-making as low as possible in the hierarchy to be effective; this cannot be stressed enough. Money is lost if a manager is making decisions a lower-level employee should be making. Support your people’s decisions by allowing front-line workers to make decisions, even if they are wrong or you would do something differently. Support your people. Yes, this means risk; see above.
- Freedom and agency. People need to feel confident in making choices and accepting consequences. Thence, allow them freedom to choose, knowing that accountability and responsibility are neither a punishment for negative consequences nor a promotion for positive consequences.
- Decision-making is all about patterns. If people have freedom to choose and agency to act, proper patterns can be trained. This does not mean decision trees need to be drafted. Let your people know the process, procedure, and the standards; then promote proper decision-making as a constant learning process.
Communication is about passing information, a sender initiates and a receiver accepts. Yet, when questions arise, how does the original receiver communicate to the original sender? If a new idea is generated, who receives this information and is accountable for this idea? These questions and more are all contained in two-directional communication efforts.
- Two-directional communication remains a simple philosophy and easy fix. Two-directional communication will drive improvements in decision-making more than any other single item on this list. How your organization communicates inside from front to back office and from front office to business leaders makes the difference in how people think, feel, and make decisions. This is where the support for making decisions is felt and confidence sprouts.
Current organizational communication models incorporate some type of statistical collection for measuring adherence to communication broadcasts. A friend refers to these messages as “commandments from on high.” The responses to these “commandments” are then measured in statistics of performance. When managers are asked to whom do we direct comments and questions, the answer is invariably either “I don’t know” or “myself” meaning that the manager is the receiver and the decision maker. Whether your comment is passed onto a higher level sometime in the future is at his or her discretion. As a side note, if the personality of the manager is sufficient to not see your comments as a threat to their personal power, your comment might be passed onto a higher level sometime in the future.
Decision-making and communication should not rely upon such hazardous and emotionally charged thoughts and opinions. Making proper decisions takes time and experience. This is why poor decisions are sometimes made requiring a manager to step-in, coach, and allow that decision-maker the opportunity to correct the oversight and improve decision-making performance. Inherent in this argument for improving organizational communication is the culture of fostering learning. A culture of learning allows people, who do not know everything, be confident in learning that which they do not know. Then the organizational hierarchy becomes leaders, not managers; supporters, not taskmasters; developers, not critics. Encourage the freedom to communicate, make decisions, and foster relationships internally to improve the external customer experience. A little freedom and support goes a long way!
© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury
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