February 26, 2013
flat army

That Decision Is Above My Pay-Grade

decisionIt’s a cliche, but not one without merit.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “that decision is above my pay-grade” at least once in your career. Whether in jest or seriously, we’ve all been witness to its intent.

For those that use it for comic relief, it’s my belief it’s done so to relieve tension — I use the term ‘clowning’ in Flat Army as a key ‘being’ attribute of connected leaders — but it’s also unknowingly utilized to make fun of a serious situation.

What is that situation?



You’ve heard of groupthink before, right? Coined by Irving Janis in 1972, groupthink portends a group of people to be thinking the same way, blinded by differing opinion or statistical proof otherwise. It’s been hailed as the purported reason for classic groupthink examples such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and arguably the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver.

But ‘decisionthink‘ is a wee bit different. It’s refers to a group of leaders who jump to action before stopping to think if others ought to be included in the process of discovery. It highlights leaders who make a decision before connecting with others and considering options before the creation or action process commences.

Decisionthink is dangerous. It creates a class divide in the organization, particularly if the decision needs important information and data from others. What if employees — lower on the machination of corporate hierarchy — could help bring about a much improved final result?

That would be as delightful as a mille-feuille in Paris. (you really have to try one of those)

In Chapter 8 of the Flat Army book, I introduce a concept called the CLAM – the Collaborative Leader Action Model. It donned on me — after completing the manuscript and final publishing edits — that the model is actually a mechanism to prevent decisionthink. I hadn’t even come up with the term ‘decisionthink‘ until two beers into a flight from Toronto to Vancouver recently … which is really a shame as I would have actually put it into the book, but what do I know. (I’m not the editor)

By virtue of connecting with others and considering options BEFORE a decision is made, perhaps we can prevent decisionthink from gaining further traction in the organization.

Although never proven, when Coca Cola Enterprises launched ‘New Coke’ back in 1985 — to much universal panning including Time Magazine who referred to it as the second worst invention ever — it was rumoured to have occurred without involving key members of the executive team. Would the debacle have ensued if that leadership team were to have reached out to others in the organization, outside the C-Suite, first?

More recently, Apple launched their version of Maps and similar to Coke, were panned just about everywhere on the planet including Wired who referred to it as ‘Mapocalypse‘. I have no proof whatsoever — think of this as dp speculation — but I have a suspicion that decisions were made in secrecy and many Apple employees could have prevented the public relations nightmare had they been invited into the ‘connect and consider options’ stages of the CLAM.

Yes, I know … some decisions need to be made privately and cannot involve everyone — or even a few — in an organization. But, rather than defaulting to ‘let’s make a decision now’ thinking, why not make your first decision about who you should connect with first to consider options before you make a decision to act.

Run away from decisionthink.

And if you do, I believe your organization will rid itself of comical (or serious) comments such as “that decision is above my pay-grade.

One Reply to “That Decision Is Above My Pay-Grade”

  1. I would love to read your thoughts on the use of “towards goals” and “away from goals”. I think it applies directly with “Decisionthink”. If the right people are in the decision loop, the possible outcomes will show both the up side and the downside. “Decisionthink” probably misses one or the other.

    Towards goals = an outcome that is positive in and of itself. Inspirational.
    Away from goals = an outcome that avoids an undesirable outcome. Fearful.

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