Decision making in great company culture

Halfway down an article by Lisa Jones on the Corporate Culture Pros blog, this quote from a switched on leader about decision making rang my bell:

“I claim Nagging Rights, but not Decision Rights”

The quote comes from a chap who was staking out the areas of the business in which he would claim final say in any decisions. He came up with only 4 areas in which he would have final say and everything else he claimed “nagging rights”, not decision rights.

It’s a brilliant statement of the importance of trust in creating an engaging and powerful culture. It recognises that the people best placed to make decisions that will impact the work, the value being added and the customer or consumer experience are those at the sharp end. If you’re a CEO making decisions about what car to sign off on for the field sales team, or how many reams of paper to order, or whether to adopt a subscription or transactional pricing model, you’re putting your fingers in the wrong pies and basically just getting in the way.

By retaining nagging rights, he’s not abdicating responsibility and he’s not pulling back from applying his experience, his knowledge of wider business context or even his simple personal views (after all, we’re all customers at some level). What he is doing is saying, my input should carry no more weight than the next guy, and I trust the person responsible to make the right call. When you know the buck stops with you, you can’t help but apply a level of energy, diligence, care and responsibility to the activity.

And all those things add up to…all together now: engagement.

What stuff did he claim decision making rights over? Here’s everything:

  • Final call on the businesses we are in
  • Final call on the strategic priorities of the organization
  • Final call on the capital investments we will make
  • Last but probably most important: Visibly champion the cultural tone of the organization.

The obvious stuff about board level acquisitions, long term strategy and cap-ex is in there but there’s further evidence of his switched on-ness with that final point. An explicit statement of intent to own and visibly champion the cultural tone.

When you’re the guy at the top of the tree, it’s your job to act on the system to make it easier for everyone else to achieve their ambitions and because culture is one the most powerful tools in an organisation’s armoury, the CEO absolutely should be the one making decisions about it.

What your decision making looks like, what rituals and processes, what rules and guidelines you have in place can have a powerful effect on your culture and be a powerful expression of it.