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Consultative Decision Making

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Introduction to Decision Making
Consultative decision makingConsultative is the second or what we consider as the middle of the three decision making styles. In Ralph's article he outlined the three decision-making styles. To his point decision-making styles and the approaches leaders take are often discussed in length within companies looking for leadership development. All three styles are appropriate in the business and personal settings. The directive style is often used under the crunch of time or deadlines. When these decisions are made they often provide solutions quickly and often are implemented in short order. The Consultative decision-making style is a little more time consuming and, if used correctly, can lead to a more educated, more nimble and engaged workforce. This style is used when there is more time to make a decision on important issues and requires input from people who can (or sometimes cannot) be directly impacted by those decisions. These consultative leaders inevitably make the decision to work within a team or teams for their thoughts before making crucial decisions.

This month we have divided up the articles into these three types of decisions and I have chosen to write about the power and purpose of consultative decision making and Lorraine has selected collaboration or collaborative decision making as her topic and Ralph’s about directive decision making. Our hope is that you will get a chance to view the various decision-making methods in a new light and to have a ready guide if you choose to use it.

So, let's get consultative...of all three decision making styles, the consultative is the one style that often leads to frustration with mangers and leaders. A few years ago I had the privilege to work with an organization that was quite successful in its field, but struggled to move from the category of good to world class. There was no doubt that the organization was very successful in its field, yet they struggled to get to the next level. They were not the typical business and they needed the individuals within the organization to bring forth the best ideas and processes to reach their customers' expectations. As I sat down and discussed their business model and processes, one of the senior leaders confided in the fact that the staff was not always committed to the decisions that were made by the team. Once a decision was made and implemented, it was often met with resistance from the staff. Upon further discussion, the leader spoke of bringing everyone together to solve a problem. He would listen to the ideas and options brought to him and then, based on what he felt was best, he would make the decision.

Consultative decision making, the second of three styles, is the style that is most often confused with collaboration. In the consultative decision making style the leader above would ask key people for their thoughts and allow them time to process and problem solve for what they felt was the best possible solution. This decision making takes much more time than the directive style. The consultative style assumes the individuals involved are more adapt at making best possible decisions while weighing all options. This style as we discussed has many uses. It can be used as a tool to help develop employees into certain positions or as a tool to get other people's perspectives and so on.

The challenge with consultative is that it does in fact take a little more time than a directive decision. It is reliant on the participants’ knowledge and expertise to keep the process moving. The leader needs to take the appropriate amount of time to discuss and hear all sides before moving to make the decision. The challenge with this style has two main thrusts.
1. The leader must be prepared to discuss the options and hear respondents' thoughts on the decision that must be made.
2. If the leader is only trying to get input, but will ultimately make the decision or has already determine the best possible decision, they participants should know what the leader is doing. The leader must also clarify that ultimately it will be his or her decision and might not be the choice the participants felt to be the best possible choice.

The employees with the above organization thought they were making the decision only to find out that the leader made it. This put a level of frustration as to why they were asked and giving time to problem solve and not have the decision used. This ultimately caused resistance from people within the organization. One such case involved a standard greeting the office used when handling incoming calls from the customers. After lengthy conversations and a rundown of greeting the customer, the service staff agreed to a greeting they were comfortable with. When it came time to implement the greeting, the leadership group chose a different greeting. While interviewing one of the customer service employees, the employee asked why would they waste his time if they had already decided.

Unlike the organization that struggled with dependence on the leaders to make a decision, this organization struggled with buy in on some of the decisions that were made. The leaders knew that the staff was capable and possibly more capable than they were, but were not upfront in telling the staff that ultimately they were only seeking input but would eventually make the decision themselves.

In summary...

  • It takes more time to choose this style so, if you have time, you can be consultative.
  • It takes a more educated audience to choose this style so, if your audience is educated or is developing, consultative can be the style of decision making.
  • It takes a level of sharing ownership, if that is not the intent.
  • It must be discussed in the beginning that if you are being consultative, ultimately you will make the decision, let them know.

Finally, it takes leaders willing to place importance on the development and opinions of ownership of decisions...these are the people within the organization. There is a higher level of dependence on the ability of the entire group, and knowledge is more readily shared. Check in with Lorraine's and Ralph's articles for more on the other decision-making styles and look for our poll question in March to weigh in on your thoughts on decision making.

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Craig Twombly
Priority Learning

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.



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