The paradox of no-decision managers is that they are invisible to top management, but visible in the organisation to many people and certainly to HR departments working with them. So if you really want to know if you have one in your organisation all you have to do is ask HR. But it is not quite as easy as that.
No-decision managers survive in large organisations and HR departments in these organisations are in different sites and may have hundreds of people, and not everyone at each site will be aware of no-decision managers, if there are any.
Experienced no-decision managers are in hiding. They naturally do not want their hierarchy to know that they never make decisions, so they have put in place a strategy for survival. The first part I call ‘hiding in excellence’. Their excellence is being an expert in something for which they are recognised, often throughout the company. This excellence takes management’s attention away from their major deficiency that of never making decisions.
With this they put in place four tactics to survive. This I call ‘structured survival’. The first tactic is excellence in managing upwards, both their boss and boss’s boss. The second is special attention to key managers in the organisation, where they build special relationships. And the third is informal networks which they use 1) to monitor negative information moving through the company about their lack of decision-making and 2) to promote their excellence as managers in the company. These three tactics are also used by excellent managers, who are able to make decision normally. Not only are they hiding in excellenc,e they are hiding amongst the excellent managers in the organisation. The final tactic is to find other people to make decisions in their place. This way some decisions in their department are made some of the time, and management thinks they are made by the no-decision manager.
When their survival strategy works perfectly, no-decision managers are considered as excellent managers in the company. When it works well, they are considered as competent managers by their hierarchy. And yet they never make decisions and have subordinates who work in frustration and anger with them. They are in fact incompetent and toxic.
No-decision managers are discovered by the accumulation of small criticisms and complaints. Each incident on its own is never classified as serious enough to take any action. It is only once their number starts to be significant that managements start to notice: from the number of reports of lack of decision-making or by the boss realising slow progress from their department. But finally they are only discovered when their boss recognises (at last) that they are managers that never make decisions.