Seven sophisticated ways managers can avoid decision making

I have already written about the simple ways to avoid making decisions; now the sophisticated ways used by managers that never make decisions: no-decision managers. They are the experts in decision avoidance because they exist in organisations never to decide. If you want to postpone a decision for later, choose one of these more devious tactics.

1 Agree but set conditions

The first in this series a manager simply announces that they agree with the subordinate BUT, they have to do something else before the decision is made. This something else can be anything. Here are a few ideas:

I need to talk to my boss

I first need to discuss with headquarters

I need the advice of a specialist

We should put it on the agenda of our next management meeting

No-decision managers when they announce this, they have no intention of speaking to the boss, headquarters, a specialist or with anyone else, concerning this potential decision. Their objective is to divert attention away, and while subordinates wait, no decision-making is required. This tactic stops subordinates asking for the decision to be made at least for a while and it gives them the impression that the manager is actively working on their problem.

You as a normal manager can use this to have more time to decide, to actually talk to the boss or to do nothing like the no-decision manager.

2 Agree but ask for more time

If you need to delay making the decision the next step is to ask for more time:

I need more time to think
I agree with your proposal but we must be careful
I agree but we must not rush the decision

Time is not specified. Careful is not defined. A rush is not detailed. Any other suitably vague excuse to avoid making the decision is valid. Subordinates will usually accept this at least for a short period of time.

No-decision managers use this tactic to ensure subordinates do not remind them to make decisions. Remember they are never going to decide.

3 Outright agreement

This tactic to avoid decision making is devious. A manager simply says to the subordinate who has been requesting a decision:

I agree with your proposal.

At this point, after so many delays and excuses subordinates sigh with relief; at last a decision will be made. Remember when no-decision managers agree to a proposal it does not mean taking an action, they are just announcing an opinion and never intend to make a decision.

Normal managers can also do this too, but one of the consequences is that the subordinates sometimes go ahead and make the decision they want. For no-decision managers any decision for them is perfect it doesn’t matter which one. For normal managers this may not be the intended outcome so beware.

4 Set a time

I call this tactic announcing a decision by setting the time in the future when you will decide:

I will make the decision next week

I’ll decide when I get back from holiday.

No-decision managers never decide. Next week comes and goes and no decision is made. Normal managers can also follow this action with rather extreme consequences because subordinates become angry and start to lose faith in their boss.  But for normal managers this is usually the end of the road and a decision must be made if this tactic is used.

5 Meetings

No-decision managers use meaningless meetings to delay and avoid decision making. Normal managers do not use this tactic. However they can use the decision meeting. If you don’t want to make a decision get help from your team and set up a meeting where the objective is to make this particular decision. It might work or it might not but you will get much more information than you had before, as well as the opinions of your team.

Beware no-decision managers set up decision meetings NOT to make a decision but to never make a decision. When they set up this meeting they get no pressure to make the decision until the meeting is held. Even at the end of a so called decision meeting, no-decision managers set up another one later, saying they did not get sufficient feedback or information to decide.

6 Task Force

This tactic, to set up an internal task force to investigate and come up with alternative decisions, can  only be used by senior managers who have the necessary power and authority. A task force can be a legitimate tactic for making important decisions especially to get the cooperation of other managers.

But no-decision managers set up task forces to delay decision-making and to give them time to find someone else to make the decision. While the task force is working the important decision is not required for several weeks if not longer. By setting up a task force no-decision managers are showing their hierarchy that they are normal managers and when they complete their work, the report is pushed up to the no-decision manager’s boss to avoid the decision anyway.

7 Appoint a Consultant

Appointing a consultant to work on a problem is similar to the task force for no-decision managers and is only used by those in top management who have the authority and the budget. There are three advantages for no-decision managers of using consultants over appointing a task force. First they need less management time, second their report can more easily be sent to top management for a decision and third they often take longer to finish their work.

Normal managers can also use this tactic help them find the best decision for their company or division and to get help from their bosses to make important decisions

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