“We have too many meetings and getting to a decision takes too long.” Seldom does a week go by without me hearing these complaints. Yet, when I dig into the root causes of those delays, many of them are self-inflicted by decision makers who empower stakeholders where they don’t need to. Ask yourself, when you have to rally a group around a decision, do you adequately differentiate between people who rightfully have a veto and those who should only have a view?
This issue came up recently when I was working with a group of senior leaders in a professional services firm. They were bemoaning the length of time it was taking to bring in partners from other firms; which is an important growth strategy for lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents. Each time they thought they had found someone really great, at least one stakeholder would raise doubts and the process would stall. Ironically, those people dragging their feet on approving the new hires were the same people who were pressuring the team to accelerate growth in the firm. Ah, the joys of organizational life!
As we explored the issue, a few things became clear. First, not everyone in the room knew the rules about who needed to approve a hire. Second, the process didn’t differentiate between those who were necessary and those who were nice-to-have (often allowing the hiring process to be delayed by scheduling difficulties with people who were not required to make the call). Third, even when it was clear who could legitimately nix a decision and who could not, the partners were avoiding conflict and stalling the offer until they had unanimous consensus. This critical growth strategy was being hampered because the team was behaving as if everyone had a veto.
A View or a Veto?
Don’t let that happen to you. For common cross-functional decision-making processes, do the following:
- Have some form of a RACI (responsible, accountable, consult, inform) model for your decisions (this is not novel advice). But I urge you to go beyond the RACI model to specify what happens if a non-controlling stakeholder is either unavailable or not onside. For example, you can’t be held hostage by someone who refuses to come to a meeting and then protests the decision you made in the meeting.
- Stick to the roles and process you’ve established. If a non-controlling stakeholder doesn’t like the decision, make sure you ask good questions to understand their perspective. Go on the record repeating their concerns so they know you’re making the decision with full knowledge of the risks. Then, make the call. “I’m noting that Miguel is uncomfortable with the candidate’s lack of banking industry experience. I hear that and I’ll address it in the onboarding plan. I’m moving forward with an offer.” If you’ve thoughtfully considered their objection and you want to proceed anyway, do it!
- Address veto-happy naysayers by helping them understand the impact of their decisions. Although the most common problem is those without a legitimate veto acting as if they have one, it’s also possible that your legitimate veto-holders are stalling the process. Don’t let that go unspoken. You don’t have to be confrontational or disrespectful, but you owe it to the organization to point out the cost of too many vetoes. If you’re trying to design a product and someone with legitimate veto-power keeps nixing your proposed design, simply state the consequences, “This is our third attempt and you would like us to redesign once more. Our original plan had us in the market for back-to-school. Adding another cycle would cause us to miss that window. Is there a way to move forward without that delay or would you like us to proceed with the redesign?”
Getting the right roles involved in the discussion improves the quality of the decision while differentiating between the authority of those roles ensures its efficiency. When the process and roles aren’t clear, you might exclude diverse perspectives either out of ignorance of their value or out of fear that they will derail the process. By clarifying who gets a view but not a veto, you can be confident in adding these voices to the discussion without fear that they will hijack the debate.