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Rethink Decision-Making for Organizational Agility

Slow decision-making prevents businesses from responding to market shifts, catastrophes, and opportunities alike. Improving organizational agility is intimidating for some managers and risk-averse business owners because it appears at first glance to abandon safety measures in favor of run-and-gun tactics. But the opposite is the case.

Retooling the decision-making process empowers teams to act correctly in the company’s interest when new problems or opportunities arise. Training employees so they can take advantage of situations before the competition prevents outside limitations from impacting your business processes and reduces the likelihood of poor decisions overall.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about organizational agility and how your company’s decision-making process may be preventing you from going on offense.

Standard Decision-Making Processes

How many steps are in your decision-making process? 3? 4? 8?

It’s one of the most important parts of corporate strategy but it’s rarely addressed holistically. The decision-making process is the concrete expression of the company structure. Many higher-ups act as if procedures for change and action can only be affected incidentally through personnel or directive changes, but it’s well within the realm of possibility to make direct changes to the decision-making structure.

Everything the company does requires a decision at some level. Production levels, budgets, hiring decisions, and sales goals are all decided upon somewhere in the organization.

Design thinking can help give decision-makers a realistic idea of the circumstances as well as the needs and desires of stakeholders. But that’s not the only structure you’ll need in place to make the best decisions possible.

Here’s an example of a run-of-the-mill decision-making process:

  • Identify the problem
  • Acknowledge limitations
  • Think of solutions
  • Analyze solutions
  • Pick the best solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate the success of the chosen solution
A woman in a yellow sweater and hat stands near two roads.
Being able to make sound decisions quickly is a huge asset.

Revamping Your Decision-Making For Agility

If that sample process sounds a little uninspired to you, you aren’t alone. That’s part of the reason why software companies began touting the benefits of agile decision-making in the early 2000s. Their success turning their operations into faster, more efficient actors inspired other companies in a variety of industries to adopt a similar approach.

This gravitation toward agility led to a group of software developers writing the Agile Manifesto, which lists the following set of priorities:

  • Individuals & actions over processes & tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Your company may have different values because of its size, strategy, or goals, but these priorities set out by the Agile Alliance are nonetheless illustrative of the kind of changes that must be implemented to make your company more agile.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever follow a plan because you’ll always be responding to change as an Agile company. It should be an instructive point that any plan that doesn’t include room for reacting to change is bound for failure eventually.

The market, consumers, and regulations are all volatile to some degree. This is true at some times more than others, but the point stands that they are all susceptible to change. Companies have to be ready to respond to such changes without abandoning their plans entirely.

Calling this positioning and strategizing ‘agility’ does give some idea that the decision-making is done quickly, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have some room to breathe and react, take it. But it’s better to be able to react lightning-fast and not have to than to need that agility and not be capable of it.

Establishing a Culture of Empowerment

In the briefest terms, a culture of empowerment is a workplace environment where key employees are given the responsibility and the training to make and act on important decisions themselves.

Many managers are understandably put off by this idea at first. Spreading responsibility could make it more challenging to monitor employees and make sure things are being done the way they should be. But that’s not quite the point of empowerment.

The idea is to upskill employees so that they are more than capable of making decisions at a certain level – and also answerable to the consequences of those decisions. The particulars of the training program will vary with the job position and the degree of experience.

Building a culture where such decision-making can flourish is essentially just an overhaul of training and responsibilities. Not only will your organization be more agile at every level because of these changes, but the employees are more likely to stay longer because they have room to improve their skills and take on additional responsibility. As long as they’re remunerated for the additional duties, employees typically want to do more and learn more on the job.

Here are some things you can try to establish a culture of empowerment at your company:

1. Be Vocal About The Company’s Mission

Ownership and management should work hard to determine what the goals of the company are and how the company is uniquely positioned to help provide a good or service to its customers. The earlier you establish this mission statement, the better you’ll be able to get everyone in the organization on the same page.

Creating a definite company mission will also give everyone a metric for measuring progress and improvement. From creatives to accounting, comparing events and campaigns will be much easier and accurate if they have a clear directive. In larger companies, directives straight from the top are hard to come by and an honest mission statement will help take the place of regular communication between the top and regular employees.

Return to the company mission and its ideal regularly when it’s time for quarterly reviews and laying out plans for the future. It doesn’t have to be dogma or treated like an oath, but everyone must be on the same page about the goals and purpose of the company they work for.

2. Encourage Long-Term Planning

If you’re trying to find a way to give your teams and employees some responsibility that doesn’t involve them going out and making critical decisions for themselves, long-term plans could be your answer. Setting up a long-term plan doesn’t have to automatically be set in stone and it can be subject to review by higher-ups. Once you see your teams are entirely capable of planning according to the mission statement and business goals, you can start to build more responsibility into their roles.

As we mentioned before, you don’t have to adhere entirely to the plan at the expense of organizational or team flexibility. But the structure helps hedge expectations and allows people to see what other members of the organization are doing without interrupting any of the works in progress.

Long-term planning can happen on the department, team, or even on the individual level. Think of it as the 5-year plan for current employees. Make sure they can take it upon themselves to set up their own plans. Just as essential, give them someone who will review their plans, give feedback, and monitor progress toward accomplishing the established goals.

3. Let People Rise to the Occasion

As important as it is to respond to some new challenges as quickly as possible, there should also be room for others to step up and take on the responsibility of problem-solving, brainstorming, and implementing plans. It would be irresponsible to suggest that management sit it out entirely, but there should be some room for new faces to demonstrate their skills and abilities.

In most cases, this isn’t just a matter of management sitting back or being passive. A far better corporate strategy is establishing communication and a two-way network so it’s clear who possesses the talent needed to take on certain responsibilities when the need arises.

Communication and openness are invaluable across any business. This specific implementation of open communication will enable management and other decision-makers to empower capable people to put their skills to work. By the time you learn of a chance to use such skills, digging around to find the talent you need could cause you to miss the window of opportunity.

4. Establish Accountability Structures

We’re not talking strictly about punishment for missing the mark or making the wrong decision. Accountability is an important signal that management and the company value fairness and equity. The corollary on the more positive side of things is a reward system for meeting and exceeding goals or expectations.

If you’re going to give people additional responsibilities, you have to also give consequences for coming up short on those duties. Make sure everyone knows what this accountability looks like before they agree to take on new responsibilities so that they aren’t caught off guard or feel unfairly treated later.

HR is one of the most common methods companies use to dole out corrective measures for their employees. One option is to simply remove the new responsibilities, but use caution with this response because it could well prevent the culture of empowerment from ever being properly established.

5. Handle Some Things Directly

People need to see that management figures are present and participating in the work of the business, especially when a new decision-making process is being established. If new paradigms or attitudes are being instilled, management should be the leading example. Beyond that, earned respect will help when the hammer has to come down at certain unavoidable junctures.

Showing up to lend a helping hand or take care of a pet project now and then also helps management figures demonstrate how communication should work at the company. Important leadership figures can also avoid coming across as out of touch to lower-level workers who never see them.

From a strictly business perspective, showing up also helps the decision-making process at the highest levels. When you’re making the decision to implement a new change or bring in the next phase of technological tools, the more informed you are about the on-the-ground conditions, the better.

Of course, if you have a true culture of empowerment built up, then the people in the departments should be able to answer for themselves and explain why they should or should not go through with proposed changes. But if management doesn’t need to do any further investigation because they are already informed and regularly updated about conditions and methodologies across the company, then they don’t have to run around learning about it at the moment when they should be putting plans into action.

Agility in the Decision-Making Process

Building an agile organization is an incredibly wise corporate strategy that will give you a competitive edge over other businesses. The reason so many managers and companies fail to successfully transform themselves into agile organizations is because they don’t view this process as being long-term and multifaceted.

If you take care of things like informing management, fostering communication, monitoring skill levels, and building responsibility and accountability structures, then your people will be ready to hit the ground running as soon as they are called upon. Once opportunity knocks, it’s probably far too late to begin establishing these things.

That’s why long-term planning is such a central idea for building organizational agility. Build the idea of agility into your company’s mission statement to make sure that this concept is at the center of company-wide efforts over the long term. It’s never too early to make the organization more agile by building a better communication structure for better-trained, more informed staff.

Streamlining for Agility

Cut through bureaucracy and eliminate duplicate meetings and long reports to make everyone’s job a lot easier and more enjoyable. For more bureaucratic decisions that can’t be avoided, try to speed things up by setting up allocations that occur regularly and are altered only quarterly or bi-annually. That way, everything is running smoothly and efficiently without taking up too much of everyone’s time.

You can also streamline things like the approvals process, project specifications, and reviews. If there’s one thing people hate about the normal business process, it’s all the busy work. If you can empower people enough and integrate some updated technology, then cutting out these unnecessary things is easier than it might appear.

Another step you can take toward streamlining the business is setting clear roles and explicitly allocating who is responsible for what. One of the most important things your employees must be empowered to do is complete their responsibilities and state when things are inside or outside their role.

Mistakes & Agility

Something everyone will have to accept is that altering the decision-making process in any meaningful way is a messy procedure and it’s not likely to go off without a hitch. Mistakes have to be tolerated to some degree – but there’s a silver lining to this particular truth.

Responding to and correcting for mistakes is one of the most advantageous things about making the company more agile. So even if something about the transformation of your corporate strategy and the decision-making process hits a snag, if you’re able to quickly rectify the problem then you know the business is already becoming more agile.

You can also tell when teams and individuals are empowered and capable of making their own decisions if they can isolate problems and come up with strategies for addressing them. Although a mistake-free transformation into an agile is the most ideal, there are many ways to turn any hiccups into opportunities.

Training & Delegating, Not Micromanaging or Abandoning

The goal of empowerment is not to throw people out of the nest and see who can fly for themselves. It’s also not about micromanaging everything that happens under your watch.

You should aim to delegate responsibly and give employees the resources they need to successfully meet new expectations. Your business should be able to meet risk without flinching because risk mitigation is already built into the processes of the business at every level.

Three women work on laptop computers together.
Creating a culture of empowerment allows teams to problem-solve faster.


Agility is a sound corporate strategy because it allows businesses to rise to new opportunities with much less risk. Empowering employees and managers to make final decisions and carry out plans will allow the company to respond to new information and pressures quickly and capably, possibly lifting you above and beyond the competition.

As long as management gives employees the resources they need to upskill, make informed decisions, and carry out strategies as planned. Far from taking away responsibility from existing managers and decision-makers, developing a culture of empowerment and making the company more agile allows them to effect definite change and leave a lasting impression. And it’s great for the bottom line, too.

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