A green light for anyone to take any decision under 2 conditions

To do well in a fast-changing world an organization needs to always be improving and adapting. That means taking a lot of decisions, large and small. How to make that easy?

One of the CEOs I like working with sent out a memo to everyone in the company:

You want to change something? The traffic light is green. From now on you can take any decision you want. There are just two conditions. First, you ask advice from your colleagues to make a very good decision proposal. Second, you check if anyone has an objection against your proposal. Please note: an objection is valid only if it explains credibly how the decision would make the company worse off.

Sofie wanted to buy a machine that digitally tests the color of T-shirts. She asked her colleagues for advice and found it would save a lot of time and help to ship orders a week earlier. She asked about the investment and found a good business case. She asked widely whether anyone saw an objection, including the business owner, and no one saw a reason this would make us worse off: no objection. She went ahead and bought the machine, felt responsible and made sure it worked out.

Of course sometimes there are objections, e.g. a regulation that was overlooked, or a lack of cash. Then the proposal can be adjusted to deal with the objection (e.g. adapt to the regulation, buy the machine in 3 months).

In some instances, a debate ensues in which people start taking opposing positions, which can lead to long discussions, which can of course be interesting. In such cases it is nice to see the benefits of hierarchy: in the light of the pros and cons, the leader simply makes the final decision. We know from research and experience that this keeps things moving forward and improves stability and the atmophshere in the team.

This is how it now works in the company that got the memo, and I see more and more organizations applying such approaches. A few years back I started calling this ‘no objection decision-making’.

In these organizations, I see young people standing up, one by one, taking the opportunity to make new things happen. And that brings a smile to my face.

Start yourself today: when somebody comes to you and asks for some approval, do not give it. Instead say ‘no objection’ and allow them to make the final decision. Or if there is an objection, explain how the decision would make the organization worse off and give some advice. Also, for yourself shift from asking for approval to asking for advice and checking whether anyone sees a valid objection. It is a small shift that has huge consequences for engagement and change.

Learn more about this in the chapter on No Objection Decision-Making in our book ‘De Fluïde Organisatie’ (with co-author Filip Lowette, currently in Dutch).