Decision Making Fault #3 – Death By Approval, Part 1

I received a call recently from a client who was looking for advice. He was asked to make a recommendation on a key decision his business unit was facing. My client did the background work, checked in with his boss and a few others along the way, and put together a clear and compelling case for the recommended solution.

 He then scheduled a meeting with his boss to review the recommendation. And that’s where the trouble began. During the meeting, his boss said although he liked the proposal, he needed to run it by a few people for their buy-in before going to the Vice President for approval. He mentioned the Directors of Marketing, IT, Engineering, Finance and Operations.


What started out as a solution on-the-move was quickly becoming one being sentenced to death-by-approval. Along the way, several things were likely to happen to the recommendation – none of them good. Here are three of the most commonly reported:

  • In an effort to include everyone’s concerns, the original solution becomes watered down to the point of becoming ineffective.
  • “Pro” and “Con” factions emerge and a skirmish breaks out. The resulting conflict brings the proposal to a grinding halt.
  • Some refuse to weigh in during the pre-decision discussion, only to appear with sudden veto attempts at the 11th hour. This halts the process until the parties either a.) work out their differences, or b.) take the dispute to a higher authority. 

Why does this happen? In our experience, there are two main causes that contribute to “death-by-approval”. I’ll discuss one of these here and the other one in my next post.

Death-By-Approval Cause #1: Lack of clarity over decision roles.

Anyone who has participated in an important decision knows that involving the right people, in the right way, is critical to a successful outcome. One of the best ways to determine who should be involved is to be clear on the key roles needed in the decision process. In their Harvard Business Review article entitled “Who Has the ‘D’?””, authors Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko outline an approach for defining decision roles called “RAPID”. The letters in RAPID stand for the primary roles performed in any business decision making situation.

R – Recommend

People who recommend are responsible to make the proposal or submit the decision for approval. Recommenders are the “engine” of the decision process. They create decision criteria, gather input and data, analyze alternatives, and develop a proposal for a course of action that is compelling and defensible.

A – Agree

People who agree to a recommendation are those who need to sign off on it before it can move forward. If they veto the proposal, they must work with the recommender to develop an alternative option. If a suitable alternative cannot be agreed on, the issue must be elevated to the person with the “D”. Only a few people should have veto power in any important decision.

I – Input

People with input responsibilities are consulted about the decision recommendation. Their role is to provide relevant facts, information and perspective. The recommendation team has no obligation to act on the input received, but is expected to take it into account. People who provide input, however, are very important, because often they are among those who must implement the decision once it’s made.

D – Decide

Eventually, one person will decide. The decision maker is the single point of accountability who must bring the decision to closure and commit the organization to act on it. This person has the authority to resolve any impasse in the decision making process.

P – Perform

The final role involves people who will perform the decision. They see to it that the decision is executed effectively. In some cases, the people responsible for implementing the decision are the same people who recommended it.

In the story above, the decision recommender and his manager should have determined the proper roles for the directors of Marketing, IT, Engineering, Finance and Operations, and worked out an appropriate involvement strategy – before the final recommendation was ready for approval. We recommend that those with key decision roles (especially the “A” role and “D” role) be consulted early in the process, when decision criteria are being established and alternative solutions identified.

This model works. We employ the concept in virtually every important decision situation we’re involved in. What’s more, it is easy to learn and use. Try it next time you are involved in a decision that could get sentenced to death-by-approval.

Stay tuned for Death-By-Approval Cause #2 – coming soon.



One Response to Decision Making Fault #3 – Death By Approval, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Decision Making Fault #3 – Death By Approval, Part 2 « The Focused Decision Maker

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