Blame and Decision Making

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Making decisions in an organization is getting more and more difficult these days. Back in the old days it was easier for a single person to make the decisions for an entire organization. Bob Cratchit only had one boss and he made all the decisions. And while people think that Steven Jobs made all the decisions at Apple, he didn’t. He set a vision and had people work to that vision.

McKinsey recently wrote an article about decision making in organizations. “Untangling your organizations decision making” talks about decision making. In particular, how the advent of email provided low-cost communication that increased the number of people involved in decision making.

The result is too many meetings and email threads with too little high-quality dialogue as executives ricochet between boredom and disengagement, paralysis, and anxiety. All this is a recipe for poor decisions: 72 percent of senior-executive respondents to a McKinsey survey said they thought bad strategic decisions either were about as frequent as good ones or were the prevailing norm in their organization.

Wow. Bad decisions as frequent as good decisions or even more prevalent. Too many people involved. Too complicated a process. We are doing this to ourselves. Appropriate ddecision-makingguidelines (this is called governance) need to be in place to make decisions faster and better. Indeed, McKinsey talks about how:

The ultimate solution for many organizations looking to untangle their decision making is to become flatter and more agile, with decision authority and accountability going hand in hand.

Flatter and more agile. Let me emphasize that point again, because I think it is polar opposite as to how as a government we operate, in particular within IT, and how we are planning for the future.


Government is risk adverse, has always been risk adverse, and as a result the people within the government operate in a risk adverse manner. And that means not having to make decisions. If you never make a decision, you can’t be blamed when things go wrong. And they will go wrong. If 3/4 of senior executives think that they currently make as many bad decisions as good decisions, flattening out the decision making tree will not eliminate the bad decisions. They will still get made, but fewer in number, but they will get made faster and, hopefully, get fixed faster.

But people in government don’t want to be, yes, I’m going to use that word, they don’t want to be blamed for any bad decisions.  Since they don’t want to be blamed, they don’t want to take responsibility for a decision.  Indeed, many of our “governance” structures are in place to push the responsibility for the decision as high as possible so that blame can be deflected.  But delegation is key to success:

As we’ve described elsewhere, agile organization models get decision making into the right hands, are faster in reacting to (or anticipating) shifts in the business environment, and often become magnets for top talent, who prefer working at companies with fewer layers of management and greater empowerment.

We want top talent, but we put in place processes, procedures and organizational structures designed to deflect blame and, as a result, we hinder our ability to attract the best and the brightest.  We are making poor decisions, at the wrong level, trying to deflect blame and hindering our ability to attract top talent.  That pretty much sums up our decision making skills in IT, doesn’t it?  Oh, and let’s not forget that future organizational designs do nothing to mitigate this mess.  Indeed, they are the epitome of deflecting blame which will, in the long run, be more costly to Albertans.  Delivering fewer products at a higher cost.

If I worked in the private sector our stock would be tanking and investors would be fleeing.  But, hey, we’re a monopoly, so does it really matter.  As a result this thinking taints our ability to plan, make decisions and it prevents us from truly reaching for the stars.

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