How do no-decision managers survive the planning process?

I my previous article here on FP&A Trends, How do incompetent managers survive planning process, I explained how incompetent managers survive the planning process by using planning guidelines issued by headquarters to prepare their plan, or by encouraging their bosses to give them sufficient information before the plan starts. Incompetent managers plan by giving headquarters and bosses what they want and by treating the plan as an administrative exercise. They do not worry about whether it is realistic or achievable.

What if no guidelines to the plan

But what happens if a manager receives no guidelines at all? Even for normal managers this is one of the most difficult tasks. Their whole management philosophy is laid bare for their hierarchy to see. If they are conservative, they prepare a conservative plan. If they are ambitious, they prepare an ambitious plan. All planning assumptions and decisions are theirs alone and open to questioning by their hierarchy

If they are incompetent managers their plan will be a failure. They cannot survive this process because their level of incompetency will show up in the plan, in the same way as the competence of a normal manager. Incompetent managers might get a second chance if, for instance, they are told to rework their plan. This way they have received their guidelines the hard way, by showing their weakness. Whatever it is, management is now aware of it. Their secret is out and their time is limited.

Exclusive to no-decision managers

Managers that never make decisions: no-decision managers, also use the guideline tactic in the planning process. However a plan without guidelines is impossible for a no-decision manager. Any plan requires multiple decisions and if they never decide, then they cannot prepare a plan. BUT no-decision managers have invented a way to prepare a plan without guidelines. It is a tactic, exclusive to them, and is never used by other managers.

Deviated delegation

Because no-decision managers never make decisions, they are always on the lookout for other managers in the organisation to make decisions in their place. All no-decision managers use this tactic to avoid decision-making and they have developed it to a fine art. I call this ‘deviated delegation,’ because normal delegation comes from a decision of the boss to delegate tasks or decisions to someone in their team. Here, the no-decision manager deviates it, by deciding and delegating nothing. It is the subordinate who decides to step in and make decisions. In fact anyone in the organisation can step in and make them: a colleague, a person in headquarters, a subordinate or the boss.

If there are no guidelines in the planning process a no-decision manager waits for one of his team to make the plan. This is invariably the financial manager.

The no-decision manager does not say to his financial manager: “Hey, I am a manager who never makes decisions, will you make the plan.” They wait for them to take the initiative. But the no-decision manager will set the scene indirectly, to show the finance manager that the way is open to step in and make the plan, without saying what he wants.

The financial manager already knows that his boss never makes decisions, and needs to recognise the possibility of deviated delegation, without knowing its name, and must step in and take the challenge to make the plan in place of their no-decision boss.  They make all decisions related to the plan with the help and input of colleagues. Whatever plan they come up with the no-decision manager accepts it.

Never in business school

Making decisions in place of a boss is not taught in any business school. Managers who take on these decisions have to learn the process on their own, through trial and error.  Sometimes, colleagues who have recognised that the boss is a no-decision manager and who have accepted deviated delegation themselves, might share experiences of making decisions in place of their boss, but I have found this is rare.


The financial manager must accept that if the plan goes well and is considered excellent, credit goes to the boss. If it goes badly, then the no-decision manager blames the financial manager. The no-decision boss will present the plan as though it is their own and will never reveal that it was prepared by someone else. Every financial manager must accept this as a condition for stepping in to make the plan.

Financial managers beware. Making decisions in place of the boss is only possible with a no-decision manager. It does not work with any other manager, even an indecisive one. Other bosses delegate normally. They never accept that subordinates step in and decide in their place, without some discussion beforehand. So financial managers must make sure that the boss is a true no-decision manager, before stepping in to decide in their place. If it is attempted with any other manager type, they will fire them for insubordination.

Be aware of the paradox.  By making the decisions when preparing the plan, the financial manager ensures that their no-decision boss survives longer in the company. Unfortunate as this might be, it is better to have a comprehensive plan prepared in due process, than it is to manage the fall out of a disastrous plan and suffer the loss of credibility of the whole team.

Originally published in FP&A Trends on 10th February 2022

Scroll to Top