Several Japanese colleagues have suggested to me that no-decision managers would thrive in companies which use the ‘Ringi’ decision-making process common in Japan, so I decided to compare this process with the characteristics of no-decision managers. (Note 1) I have worked in a Japanese company, but never in one that uses the Ringi process to make decisions. The management of Japanese subsidiaries outside Japan tends towards two different opposing models. At one extreme, companies flood top management of their foreign subsidiaries with Japanese expatriate managers, while at the other, subsidiaries are managed by local managers with no Japanese involved at all. Both models seem to work equally well. I suspect that a form of Ringi decision-making is present in the former, but is impossible in the latter.
The main characteristics of Ringi decision-making are as follows:
It is a consensus building process sometimes described as democratic or circular
It has a formal process with four steps 1) Proposal 2) Circulation 3) Approval 4) Record
But it needs informal meetings and discussions to be effective.
The Ringi process starts with a proposal from a manager who can be anywhere in the hierarchy of the company, very often from middle management. It is quite obvious that a no-decision manager would never make any proposal to initiate the process. A proposal is after all a decision, so they would never be initiators.
This manager, making the proposal, is likely to discuss it with his immediate boss, and is required to prepare a formal document called a ringi-sho which is often a printed form which needs to be filled in. If the immediate boss is a no-decision manager, it is quite possible that this no-decision manager would contribute to the process, but if, and only if, his or her immediate boss is favourable to the project. This because they will consider that the favourable comment from the boss is an order to proceed with the project, and that they are just implementing this order to continue. No-decision managers you will remember are experts in implementing decisions of others.
The excellent analytical and report making skills of no-decision managers, will be very useful to any manager who initiates a ringi-sho. They can contribute to the report with the arguments both for and against the proposal. They would never though, suggest improvements. An improvement, like a proposal, is equivalent to a decision. No-decision managers in this case become facilitators, but never proposers.
No-decision managers also have extensive informal networks. These are used as part of a survival strategy to ensure their lack of decision-making is kept secret. But now in the Ringi system, no-decision managers would be able to promote the project in the informal meetings and discussions, but above all to show their superiors how skilful and knowledgeable they are. They use their skills in networking for positive actions instead of defensive ones.
However step three, the approval of the ringi-sho is a decision which the no-decision manager must watch out for. This step requires the signature of all the managers in the process and of course a signature is a decision. Here no-decision managers just need to make sure that they sign the ringi-sho after their boss. This way they can say that because the boss, by signing, agrees with the proposal, that they, the no-decision managers, are just implementing an order from the boss.
The final approval will be made higher up in the organisation so the no-decision manager just sits back and waits. They are competent at this.
In the record step, where the decision is published and then implemented, the no-decision manager is again both active and competent, if his department is involved.
In the Ringi system, it no longer matters if a manager never makes decisions, the process and the ultimate decider make the decisions. And the ultimate decider will never be a no-decision manager. In this process the no-decision manager decides nothing, yet is an active participant able to show his or her management, three distinct skills:
1) informal networking
2) analysis and report making
3) implementation of decisions (made by others).
In fact, the fundamental weakness of decision-avoidance simply disappears. Instead of being a serious management flaw which needs to be hidden, it becomes irrelevant. The Ringi System then, is a perfect environment for no-decision managers. They are no longer invisible and toxic but become visible and successful.
No decision managers, all over the world should move to Japan and work in companies that use the Ringi decision-making process. There, they will become star managers working in excellence, instead of the toxic ones that they are today!
Note1 Below is the link to the article entitled “ Ringi System” The Decision Making Process in Japanese Management Systems: An Overview by Srilalitha Sagi (International Journal of Management and Humanities Volume-1 Issue-7, April 2015) on which this article has been based. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2597083