The cover of Fortune magazine popped off the newsstand shelf last month: What Happened at Pfizer: The Inside Story of Revenge, Betrayal, and Power at the Top of the World’s Largest Drug Company.” (August 15, 2011)

Amidst the story that recounted epic boardroom intrigue, one section described the impact that these political shenanigans had on day-to-day decision-making.

“A second anonymous letter, claiming to be from ‘responsible, long and loyal Legal Division employees,’ arrived on the very day of the board meeting. It complained of ‘micromanagement,’ ‘constant’ internal reorganization, and a ‘chaotic’ decision-making process. ‘A decision is made, then reconsidered and changed. Decisions, even minor…are picked apart and often directed to be undone. Then re-studied. Then the decision-making group expands. Paranoia results. Autonomy is sapped.”

When it comes to fuzzy authority and recycled decisions, Pfizer is not alone. Wherever it occurs, at whatever level, the organization is seriously impacted. It matters how decisions are made. Nothing is more revealing about the leadership and the future of an organization than how decisions are made.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of top management is to align the organization—to get all the oars of the scullers in the water pulling in the same direction. When company leaders compete for the megaphone it becomes, “Stroke, no don’t stroke. Pull left; I mean right—now, anyway.” The course is convoluted, not straight; energy is wasted, not conserved.

When there is leadership dysfunction, there is organization dysfunction and ultimately the patient suffers. Yes—the patient.

Whether it is getting the organization aligned to resolve its regulatory compliance problems, or on time order fulfillment, it is clear lines of authority and crisp decisions that lead us across the finish line.

So, if you feel sometimes you are in an organizational vortex of ineffective decision-making, my recommendations are these:

  1. When you accept an assignment, be clear about who are the reviewers and approvers. A good Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI) model applies here.
  2. Establish a charter with a clear scope, lines of communication and decision-making authority. Have your oversight committee approve.
  3. Before you are asked to present to your oversight committee, be sure to clarify whether your authority extends beyond recommendations to decisions. If you are the decision maker, walk the committee through your logic.
  4. Clarify what decision was made. After the presentation to your oversight committee, sum up the decisions. Don’t leave until every decision is crystal clear.
  5. If you were charted with decision-making authority, but your oversight committee takes it out of your hands in a meeting, ask for an explanation. Otherwise, you have no basis of moving forward.
  6. Capture minutes of decisions. Whenever you sense that you are having a “Groundhog Day” meeting, remind the participants that the issue had been discussed and decision had been made as recorded in the minutes.
  7. If anyone on the oversight committee starts to lobby outside of the committee to change the decision, stop it dead in its tracks. Indicate to that person that the decision was made.
  8. When you detect dissention among those of equal authority and it impacts your ability to make progress, meet with them collectively with the stated objective to achieve unified direction.
  9. Document a decision timeline. Nothing points to the effect of poor decision-making than a timeline of direction, redirection, and reverse direction. You may need it when you are asked why your project is behind schedule.
  10. Protect your team from the effects of poor leadership decision-making. Make forward progress where you can; assume you make the decision. Resist all temptation to promulgate the organizational vortex.

Don’t be the victim of a dysfunctional environment. You may not be able to take complete control, but you can take steps to minimize its effects.

republished and adapted with permission from The QA Pharm