Revitalizing Sluggish Decision Making Practices

ORGANIZATIONS OFTEN respond to accelerating change with slower decision making. CEB’s study of 3,000 business leaders found that 63% of executive felt decision making was too slow. Making the right decision is not guaranteed by slow decision-making practices.

Certainly the increased complexity decisions complexity leaders begs for careful analysis, however, this research study found that slow decision making was not related to in-depth analysis. Instead, the lack of speed was attributed to:

[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#F0F0F0 ” end_color=”#F0F0F0 ” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#444444″]

  • Inattention to hand-offs between groups,
  • Escalating low value decisions up the chain of command,
  • Overly complex processes,
  • Unbalanced metrics, and
  • Faulty decision making delegation.[/message][su_spacer]

While this list looks daunting, there are two highly achievable solutions. First, a leader needs to evaluate what decisions should be made and at what level based on clear criteria or guardrails. Some questions that need to be asked include:

[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#F0F0F0 ” end_color=”#F0F0F0 ” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#444444″]

  • Is it really necessary to have the upper management to approve all decisions?
  • Can frontline staff resolve issues within specified parameters?
  • Is an agile and entrepreneurial culture consistent with a tedious decision review?[/message][su_spacer]

In many organizations, the temptation to pass the buck up the chain of command thrives. While we espouse delegating to lower levels, delegating up the chain still flourishes. In one organization the CEO made decisions on hiring security guards extending the approval cycle to several months. By the time the hiring decision was made, the applicant had accepted another position. While this is an extreme example, it is smart to evaluate whether your organization employs a wise decision authorization practices.

Too often staff successfully delegates up the chain to their managers as a safety precaution absolving them of the responsibility for making a difficult decision. To stop the process, leaders can refuse to accept the role thrust on them by insisting any decision comes with a final recommendation backed by thoughtful analysis.

In addition, some mid-level managers expect to be consulted on every decision fearing that a risky precedent be set. Unfortunately, this means they are swamped with minor issues prohibiting them from handling significant concerns. The ability to set guidelines for common decisions not only frees up their time but also empowers their staff. Decision documentation by staff can quickly clarify the decision parameters enabling timely action. Decisions need to be made as close to the individuals impacted as possible.

Second, reassess and streamline current decision-making practices. Is it best for decisions to be reviewed sequentially by level instead or can it be open for concurrent review?   Would establishing a response timeline expedite decisions instead of letting something sit on a vacationing person’s desk? Can key players get involved in the process early so that their input is included from the start? Is there clear evidence that the current review process adds value?   Layers of unnecessary protocol accumulate over time and must be updated or the organization will drown in bureaucracy.

While an actual decision merits the most attention, the decision-making process must also be examined to ensure smart and timely decisions. Getting it right late may mean a lost opportunity, an incurred risk or a tarnished brand.


Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. One organization I worked for sent several of us (non-managers) to problem solving classes. The idea was to help us to identify problems, make sure they really were problems, and break down the components so we could define it and recommend steps to resolving it. It was a long time ago, but I still remember the discussions over how complex the solution was. Based on that, it was next determined what level of management was accountable for it. Funny that I hadn’t thought about that process since the 90s until today. I wonder if anyone would even propose such a process today. I don’t remember that it was a fast path to solution.

    • Jane,

      I took a program by Kepner-Treoge in the 90s on problem solving which was quite good. I think one of the differences today is that decision making for the future offers more challenges than looking at problems or deviations from expectation. Decision making requires a level of strategic thinking including second and third order impacts which are hard to identify and manage. Of course any leader needs to handle both well but I have found that many leaders shy away from uncharted territory or micro manage out of fear. We need to rethink the way we think.
      Thanks for the comment,