– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

“Not yet decided” – a new management trend?

It seems as if I have spotted a new trend in management methods. I have observed it more and more frequently over the last couple of months. To my big surprise, other management writers did not pick up this topic on a large scale so far.

Did you ever hear about “Not yet decided”-management?
I just invented the term since there seems to be no better one around.

To avoid any doubt, I am absolutely no advocate of firm and formal decision processes for every situation. We are living in a dynamic world. Many situations require quick action. Often, it would be counterproductive to wait for an official decision in a pressing matter.

However, avoiding the decision at all is not a good solution either!

And this is exactly what I have been observing lately.

Employees and middle managers ask about any upcoming changes and all they get as an answer is “This is not yet decided”.

This answer does not mean
“We haven’t bothered with decision-making and have just acted instead.”
It actually does mean
“We have successfully avoided this decision so far.”

[bctt tweet=”“This is not yet decided” actually means “We have successfully avoided this decision so far.””]

Here are some examples I came across recently:

  • A business acquired a smaller competitor. The employees of the small company wanted to know about their new owner’s plans for them, which is perfectly understandable. The answer was:
    “Well, there are three options A, B, and C. We have not yet decided for one of them. We are not in a hurry and we will take our time with that decision.”
    Nine months later, it turned out that one of the options was strongly favored right from the beginning. The other two have been more theoretical ones.
  • The top management of a group with diverse business activities announces that they intend to make significant changes in the organizational structure on a management meeting.
    “This will be a challenging process for you. Not all of you will remain in their current positons. We’ll count on your commitment! –
    No, there aren’t any details available yet. You’ll see next year.”
  • A so far legally independent subsidiary had been integrated into the parent company. This had been planned for more than three months. Even two weeks after the integration, there are no new org charts available for the newly formed branch office. Headquarter simply had not yet decided where to integrate some particular business functions into their overall reporting lines.

From my observations, there are several reasons for this lack of decision taking. Here are my best guesses:

  • Lack of understanding / ignorance / perception of insignificance: Managers in charge simply don’t understand that there is an important issue to be decided. They consider the problem insignificant or even uninteresting. Sometimes they forget that major decisions inevitably entail several subsequent decisions.
  • Unclear responsibilities / counting on somebody else: Top managers might mistakably think that these subsequent decisions are taken by lower level managers. They, in turn, don’t feel responsible since nobody told them they are.
  • Waiting for the problem to solve itself: It seems to be a popular approach to delay the decisions until the problem goes away. Unfortunately, problems don’t always do what is expected from them.
  • Disguise of the true intentions: Managers might think it is too early to reveal their true plans for some political or strategic reasons.

These strategies may work in some cases. Of course, there are situations in which the disguise of a business’s true intentions is used in a strategic power play or to outsmart competitors. Other businesses may survive and prosper for a long time, despite their non-effective way of (non-)decision making. However, who knows if their situation could be even better if they were willing to take the right decisions at the right time?

I see a lot of risks with this “management trend”, amongst others uncoordinated action, missed opportunities, insufficient project outcomes …

If you ask me, the biggest problem, however, is the following.
“Not yet decided” is a sure-fire way to demotivate everyone in the organization from shop-floor staff to middle management:

  • People do not know what they are expected to do
  • People get the impression that nobody cares for their day-to-day problems
  • People may perceive discrepancies between the official mission- and corporate culture statement (We value our people) and management action
  • People lose trust in their leadership
  • People are worried about their future – this may make top performers look out for better jobs elsewhere
  • I could continue this list with even more …

What is your experience? Do you see an increasing unwillingness to take decisions too? Share your observations in the comments!

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