Thursday, December 17, 2009

Decision avoiding

Two articles on decision avoiding or deferring. The first is from Sharu Rangnekar and the second is Chandrasekaran in The Hindu. The second article was sent to me after reading my earlier post which ended with the statement "Hasten Slowly."


The first step to decision-avoiding is to determine whether we should avoid the decision by ourselves or “pass the buck”. The third decision-rule states: If you can get somebody else to avoid the decision, don’t avoid it yourself.

*Committee Method: The most popular method of passing the buck is to appoint a committee to ‘review the problem’ This method has been patronized very widely by government authorities  but  it  is  by  no  means  their  monopoly  Non-government  sectors  also  have  found  this  method  extremely useful for decision-avoiding Although in many cases, the very act of appointing committees will effectively ensure decision-avoiding, a wise manager will doubly ensure the result by taking the following measures:

1.    Make the committee as large as possible: A committee of three may suddenly get to a decision. The  possibility  is  greatly  alleviated  if  the  membership is  increased  to  nine.  Research  has  revealed  the mathematical rule (known as the fourth decision-rule)): The possibility of avoiding decision increases In
proportion to the square of the number of members in  the  committee.  Committees  with  membership  of
thirty  and  above  rarely  reach  any  significant  decision (e.g. National Integration Council).

2. Make the committee meeting difficult: This  can  be  done  by  appointing  a  sick  chairman, members geographically as distant as possible, etc.

3.    Make the committee incompatible: At least two members of the committee should have a  previous  record  of  proved  hostility  or-  at  least  a dominating attitude. Others will develop hostility as the committee work proceeds.

*Abominable No-man Method: Many companies have an invaluable asset which rarely figures on their balance sheet. It is the “Abominable no-man”. The basic characteristic of this person is his infinite capacity to say “no”. Consequently, even a threat to refer the matter to A.N. compels the initiator to drop his proposal.

*Bottomless Joe Method: In the absence of the availability of A.N., some companies resort to the “Bottomless Joe”. B.J. has  the  exceptional  quality  that  any  matter  referred  to  him is  guaranteed  to  get  lost.  He  is  invaluable  to  his  employers because he cannot or will not complete any job assigned to him and is thus very convenient for avoiding decisions. Needless  to  say,  A.N.  and  B.J.  are  extremely  useful  as members of any committee appointed to avoid decisions.

*Make  it  a  Policy  Matter:  In  circumstances  where committees  cannot  be  appointed  and  A.N.  or  B.J.  are  not readily  available,  the  buck  can  still  be  passed  to  the  higher management by making the problem a policy matter, e.g. “There has been a proposal for a cycle-stand for workers. This basically forms a part of our employee-benefit scheme and consequently cannot be considered in isolation. In due course, the top management should consider this proposal while  reviewing  our  wage-structure,  benefit  scheme,
etc....” In  criminal  cases,  ‘insanity”  is  the  ultimate  plea.  Similarly, in  management  action  or  inaction,  “policy”  is  the  ultimate convenient label.

*Appoint a Consultant: This is rather a desperate move and should be resorted to when other remedies are not available. If a proper consultant is chosen and his terms are made ambiguous enough his report will create enough confusion and hostility so that the original problem will be lost.


Situations arise where a manager is unable to pass the buck and is compelled to avoid decisions by himself. In such cases, the manager may use any of the following approaches:

Scare the Initiator: The methods available for this purpose are:
*Tantrum Method: This is a somewhat ancient method, but is still effective. When the initiator comes with his proposal, you should throw a tantrum.

*Hush-hush  Method:  Alternately,  you  may  warn  the initiator that he is rushing in where “angels fear to tread”

*More-details-please Method: If you keep on asking for more and more details, the initiator will give up his proposal sooner or later e.g. “Regarding  your  proposal  (cycle-stand  for  workers)  we regret to note that full details have not been made available. Before the proposal can be considered further, we would like
to have the following details in quintuplicate:
1.    Dimensions of standard cycles with expected variation.
2.    Average laden and unladen weight with usual variations.
3.    Estimated capacity requirements by quarters in the next seven years.
4.    Possible modes of construction with estimated cost   (Please enclose 3 competitive quotations each )
5.    All other relevant or significant details available at your end...”

*Double-talk Method: If you have mastered the jargon of management, you can confuse the initiator, e.g. “You are talking about cycle-stand for workers. Do you realise that is just a method of their expressing the lack of mutual trust. So we must look upon the problem as a  symptom  and  not  as  a  disease.  What  must  we  do to create an atmosphere of mutual trust or harmony? Not granting material benefits, but interacting with the workers to create a feeling ,of unity...”

*No-problem-exists Method: Deny the very existence of the problem, e.g.: “What  is  this  about  a  cycle-stand?  We  have  been running this factory for 15 years without a cycle-stand. Everybody knows that cycles can stand without a cycle-stand.  Why  do  you  want  a  cycle-stand?  Why  do  you want to bring up an imaginary problem?..

The Narasimha Rao Method: There are a few ardent followers of our late Prime Minister in our corporate world. The late P. V. Narasimha Rao is one of our most under-rated Prime Ministers who, despite running a minority Government, gave us the seminal 1991 liberalisation that kick-started our journey to economic redemption. His method of action was seemingly not to act at all. His Sphinx-like silences when confronted by crises hid a fascinating way of seemingly letting things work themselves out in public on their own but he clearly did act in the background to make them happen.

The Jilebi Process: We all love the jilebi for its taste. Specialists in the corporate world love it for its shape. It is almost impossible to pinpoint where the start point for the jilebi is and where its end point is; more importantly, it has multiple loops. Once an idea is forced into the jilebi loop by experts, it is impossible to retrieve it in its original form. Time goes by, the idea loops around endlessly and people get fed up. They give up.

The ‘Naale Baa’ Technique: There was a story that made its rounds a couple of years ago in Bangalore about a ghost that would knock on doors and would go away if it was told Naale Baa in Kannada — meaning, come back tomorrow. You just had to repeat this if it came back again. Can you really count the number of times we have gone to get a decision from our bosses only to be told, come back tomorrow and the tomorrow for a decision never comes?

The Kamaraj Plan:  Many corporate honchos subscribe to the Kamaraj plan. The late K. Kamaraj was an iconic chief minister of Tamil Nadu in the 1950s and 1960s. A laconic man, his favourite response to anything asked of him was the Tamil word parkkalam — meaning, let us see. He achieved a lot as a chief minister, so his technique must have given him the latitude of not committing to anything immediately but also making sure that many things indeed got done in due course.

The Mobius Strip Manoeuvre: If an ant were to crawl along the length of a Mobius Strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed both sides of the strip, without ever crossing an edge. This is a splendid technique used by many bosses to give the worker ants the joy of feeling that they are doing something but essentially ensuring that they come back to the starting point without having achieved anything!

The Delphic Oracle Methodology: Pythia, the ancient Delphic Oracle, was supposed to be in a trance and “raved” — probably a form of ecstatic speech — and her ravings were “translated” by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters. People consulted the Delphic Oracle on everything from important matters of public policy to personal affairs. Many a corporate has Delphic Oracles who speak in a strange language which needs translation by a body of acoloytes so that mere mortals can understand and act upon their advice. Guess it also gives a handle for denial when things go wrong!

Hasten slowly is a wonderful oxymoron. I feel it is also a great way to deal with problems — think through them and act appropriately when needed. You can always choose one of the options above to guide you when in doubt!

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