Decision Making For Dummies
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Companies think in different ways. How they think is a reflection of their cultures, combined with their leadership awareness and their commitment to learning. Generally companies fall roughly into one of three categories:

  • High-performance companies: These companies anchor decisions to values centered on caring about employees and customers and preserving or enhancing social and environmental value. They are typically comfortable with uncertainty, make ethical decisions innately, and are agile.

    Highly networked and collaborative, they build value through relationships and partnerships within the local community and with their customers and suppliers. Informal learning is promoted, and decision-making is decentralized. Employees are highly engaged and accept personal responsibility and accountability. A shared and strong sense of purpose drives financial security.

  • Companies in transition: These companies are adapting to changing market, social, and environmental conditions. Their transition is from a traditional way of thinking and seeing the business economic role to a more flexible, bigger picture view that embraces more variables and, therefore, has greater opportunity.

    Focused on profit, they may also have embraced sustainability, social responsibility, or community outreach programs. Employee engagement depends on management style and how consistently it is practiced in every corner of the company. Decision-making is a mix of centralized and decentralized, using participative and authority-based (boss) approaches. Risk exposure to unethical decision-making is the consequence of what management behavior and company metrics reinforce as acceptable.

    When the cultural DNA is undergoing an overhaul, it can feel like a mash-up and be confusing, causing fear in certain segments of the workplace. Open and honest communication that keeps everyone up-to-date helps offset fear of uncertainty. When companies in transition don't stick to their long-term vision, they can join the ranks of the next category: desperate companies hanging on by a thread.

  • Companies that are hanging on by a thread and are willing to do anything to survive: In companies like this, decision-making authority and hierarchy are inseparable and centralized. Information is used to gain internal political advantage, and employees are trained to be passive and are punished if they push innovative ideas or contrarian views forward.

    The workplace environment may be toxic, and, as you’d expect, employee engagement is lower, levels of fear are higher, and a lot of creative energy is wasted due to a no-tolerance for uncertainty mindset (a characteristic of companies addicted to perfection). High levels of stress mean low levels of intuition, resulting in compromised decision-making.

    A company like this may or may not be able to adjust to changing conditions in the business environment or to changing customer values.

Can you identify which of the previous categories your company falls into? Armed with this knowledge, you can begin to make intentional decisions that will take your business where you want it to go. The alternative? Defaulting to the subconscious cultural assumptions that may be undermining your full success.

Interestingly, which of these mindsets a company falls into isn’t necessarily governed by how long it’s been in business or its stage of growth. The key is the company’s willingness and ability to stay in tune with what is going on both internally and externally. When decision-makers stay tuned to changing conditions internally (changes in culture and employee engagement) and externally (what’s going on with customers), they quickly adapt.

Companies attached to deeper, outdated habits, on the other hand, fail to notice the part culture plays and so they resist change, both intellectually and through standards set in workplace expectations.

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Dawna Jones generates imaginative insights and applies 25 years experience in helping businesses and organizations make bold decisions. She co-designs the future of organizations, transforming them from "business-as-usual" to inclusive cultures of prosperity.

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