As our face-to-face meetings with new and potential clients increase, we are noticing the rise of the “De facto Consensus Culture.” Such cultures secretly sap organizations of agility and drain their time.
To illustrate, let’s start with an analogy. At 14 years old I cleaned the McDonald’s parking lot, dining area, and restrooms. I used a bleach solution on a rag to clean the tables and ammonia to clean the bathrooms and windows. One day I had a brilliant idea — if one cleaner worked well, mixing the two would work even better. Don’t try this at home — the result was not a better cleaning solution, but mustard gas. Fortunately, my experiment occurred at closing time and I was the only one whose eyes were on fire.
The mustard gas was created by two useful elements. The same is true for the de facto consensus culture; two trends based on positive ideas can create metaphorical mustard gas in organizations.
The Metaphorical Recipe for “Mustard Gas”
Let’s break this down, the first positive trend is the “pushing out” of decision-making from the executive level to the lowest capable decision-maker. This is an extremely important shift for organizations, and absolutely necessary to be agile enough to navigate a constantly changing economic climate.
The second positive trend is granting greater freedom to employees on how they invest their time. Examples include Google’s “20% time” and ROWE (Results Only Work Environments).
In our consulting practice, we strongly encourage both trends. But these two structures are beneficial only when roles and decision-making rights are clearly defined.
If no one has the decision-making rights and roles are unclear, everyone has a veto by refusing to do their part in a project or task.
For instance, a client recently told me about an engineer with a product improvement idea. For this improvement to work, they needed additional software coding. She brought her idea to the IT developer who used his “veto” and refused to write the code. The idea died in a cloud of metaphorical mustard gas because no one had the decision-making rights regarding the entire project. They were only given decision-making rights concerning their functional involvement.
The Remedy — How to Regain Organizational Agility
The remedy begins with the presumption that all employees are capable, aligned with organizational values, and they tend to put the organization’s needs ahead of themselves. If this is not the case, then a culture and staffing strategy is needed first.
When this presumption is accurate, there is a phased remedy to the de facto consensus culture.
First, the roles and decision-making rights should be clearly defined. The defined roles and rights should never be changed amidst a decision-making process, only after.
Second, the organization must instill an advice culture in which the great majority of decisions are made by individual employees, not by consensus. The decision-makers are responsible to get input from everyone who may be impacted or has pertinent information. These decision-makers apply objective critical thinking to the decision. The input from others impacted by the decision is treated as data to inform the decision and not as permission-giving. Employees should be free to make decisions against the advice of their supervisors.
At Psynet, we made this process more efficient by developing the Role NavigatorTM. This tool enables and enhances the process of defining tasks and decision-making rights, among other things. Further, it manages fluidity by automatically updating changes in decision-making rights; and facilitates role assignment to advice-givers, those required to sign off on decisions, and collaborators.
If a company does not have access to the Role Navigator tool, tools like RACI are effective, albeit more cumbersome.
Using such tools requires the following steps:
- Every employee independently completes their Role Navigator (or RACI chart).
- Employees work through discrepancies between coworkers before there is a conflict and emotions run high. Supervisors or consultants mediate disagreements.
- Leaders codify changes in tasks and decision-making rights in the Role Navigator or RACI chart as the organization changes. Our clients meet quarterly to update these tools.
- When there is conflict, everyone follows the agreed-upon decision-making rights, and changes to the rights are made only after the conflict has been resolved.
Many organizations have moved to flatter hierarchies and agile structures. These trends make work more exciting and satisfying but also come with challenges. When the RACI methodology was introduced, organizations relied on deep hierarchies and non-executive roles were filled with repeatable tasks. Projects and time-bound tasks were the exceptions.
Now, hierarchies are flattening and most work is time-bound so the need to define decision-making rights is constant. Lagging companies do not have a procedure for this shift, so who makes what decision is often undefined. By following these steps and using an effective tool like the Role Navigator or RACI, the decision-making rights vacuum will fill and no one will get “gassed.”