No-decision managers realise early in their careers that they need to put into place a strategy for survival over the long term. They need to hide their weakness: not making decisions, from management, distract management’s attention away from it and monitor information about what is being said about them. The best way to hide their weakness is to find people in the organisation to make decisions in their place. This is often their boss or subordinates. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/choose-level-decision-making-carefully-grant-tait/) But it can be a colleague or anyone else in the organisation, usually managers in headquarters. This alone though is not enough. Long term no-decision managers have three other tactics they deploy to survive.
The first is expertise. No-decision managers need to be brilliant at something. It does not matter what it is, but with this expertise, they become known throughout the company to be the expert on this particular subject and are consulted frequently.
If they do not have specialised expertise, the generalist no-decision managers in top management who have survived without taking decisions for say, more than ten years, excel in three core skills: ‘great’ analysis, ‘great’ knowledge of the company, and ‘great’ understanding of the people in their organisation. I have called this concept ‘hiding in excellence’. It is used by no-decision managers to take attention away from their major inability: that of not making decisions.
All the senior no-decision manager’s that I worked with, were experts in analysing complicated situations: ‘great’ analysis. They are able to develop, analyse and evaluate alternatives in the decision-making process, and write a comprehensive report, but without, of course, making a recommendation. A recommendation is a decision. ‘Great’ knowledge, for a top no-decision manager involves being an expert in the business, the competition and the technology. In middle management, they are experts in their field, especially in technology. No-decision managers spend time on developing a ‘great’ understanding of key employees in the organisation, for instance: their roles, their motivations, and their skills.
As part of ‘great understanding’, no-decision managers need information on their subordinates and on any people in the organisation who know that they are no-decision managers. They do this by setting up specialised ‘informal internal networks’ within the organisation designed to collect information. Through their networks they are able to monitor what people are saying about their decision avoidance and who they say it to.
Information, that they are managers who never decide, is bound to circulate within the organisation and will eventually reach the boss of the no-decision manager. No-decision managers are able to monitor the information circulating about them and then are ready with a clear answer or explanation when their boss confronts them about a ‘no-decision’ situation.
Building privileged relationships
All long-serving no-decision managers without exception are masters at managing their bosses. This is not simply applying the now well-documented tactics stated in management textbooks on the subject. They master these and then go further. They build special relationships not only with their own boss, but the boss’s boss and a few selected key opinion leaders in the company, usually in headquarters.
They manage and filter information before it reaches their boss. They analyse the boss’s preferences, habits and even their decision-making styles, and then adapt their own behaviours to optimise their no-decision security needs. Ultimately, they become their boss’s most brilliant subordinate.
They cannot survive everywhere
But no-decision managers learn they cannot survive in certain types of organisations or as subordinates of certain types of bosses. Organisations with decentralised decision-making, for instance, reject no-decision managers. These companies have a method of operating which encourages initiative, welcomes risk-taking and requires managers at all levels to decide on their own. Here, timely decision-making is key. No-decision managers cannot operate in this type of environment. ‘Hiding in excellence’ does not work and their complete lack of decision-making will quickly show up.
No-decision managers can never work for another no-decision manager as their boss. Two hierarchical levels of no-decision management bring any organisation or department to a complete standstill. But above all, management will quickly detect a double level of no decision-making, and the more senior no-decision manager will ensure that the blame for non-decisions lies with the no-decision subordinate, who will be dismissed.
No-decision managers can never work for a ‘micro-manager’ as their boss. The ‘micro-manager’ boss exercises excessive control over subordinates and goes into minute detail about everything. They take so much control, that they make all the decisions, which in theory is a perfect situation for the no-decision manager. Unfortunately, because they go into so much detail, they give the no-decision subordinate numerous minor decisions to make quickly, which they find quite impossible to cope with. They are discovered quickly as no-decision managers and fired.
Finally no-decision managers cannot have the top job in any organisation. In commercial and profit-oriented organisations the top position is usually the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or President. In government it is the President or the Prime Minister. The top job often reports to a committee, a board of directors or a board of trustees. People in these top positions make decisions all the time, so no-decision managers exclude themselves from going too high in an organisation into positions which by definition require decision-makers. At the next level down, however, no-decision managers can and do survive.
No-decision managers are invariably intelligent, friendly and politically astute and with these characteristics they are able to construct strategies for survival adapted to the organisation they work in. Some however, can make a career without these strategies in different organisations accepting they will be discovered after a few years and fired from time to time. The first no-decision boss I worked had this career strategy. He was a director in charge of a department in Europe and I realise now he did not have a survival strategy. Every three to four years, he was fired, undoubtedly because he was a no-decision manager, however he managed to find equivalent positions all over Europe until he retired.