The Yin and Yang of decision making

Do you know where your organization’s or even government decisions get made and how effective all this is?

It’s apparent that companies and governments have functions as well as products/services. The two exhibit a yin and yang affair when it comes to where decisions are made at these entities. The function enables the delivery of products and services, while products and services give function meaning.

The Yin & Yang of corporate decision making
Credit: Pixabay

Yin and yang in Chinese philosophy describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many tangible dualities, such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang.

For this particular blog, the Effectiveness lab’s focus is asking where, between function and product/service front line, effective decision making happens. Is it at function or product/service line level? The latter is akin to asking if decisions regarding what menu a restaurant offers its clients should be taken in the kitchen by the master-chef and their team or in back offices by the purchasing and accounts functions.

Well, let us put more context to the function vs. product/service line decision making dichotomy. Organisations have functions that show the world how they coordinate and link processes to deliver end products/services; these functions are usually technical departments like marketing, finance, engineering, strategy & analysis, etc. On the other hand, are the products or services that we get from each organization’s organizing-process, delivered by frontline staff – an army of professionals that is at times taken for granted.

It’s true that with thoughtful process analysis and sequencing, companies and other formal sector entities will have achieved unique value addition by the time they exit these complex process maps – i.e. final products and services.

For example, a mobile phone company provides mobile-telephone service – availing a mechanism to talk on air via our phones, is its service offer. Such companies may also provide data/ISP services to those interested in that side of telephony. To deliver such services to the mobile-phone market, mobile telephone companies have to organize themselves in a certain way – the chosen organization configuration portrays how various functions support the delivery of such services.

Companies that manufacture beer offer beer for a product – not a service this time. When you visit a brewery, you will see large silos and other equipment that brew beer. Like the mobile phone service provider above, behind the beer factory lies OD. configurations that provide the necessary organizing mechanism to produce your favorite beer. Beer manufacturing firms usually have strong back-office marketing and supply chain functions.

Even governments have functions and services that inform the broad and complex service provision agenda they have for the citizens. Government ministries are umbrella level organizing mechanisms but under them are departments tailored to facilitate service delivery to the citizens. For example, Uganda’s ministry of health provides medical services to the population of Uganda. But to enable effective delivery of such services, there are various functions at the ministry headquarters that support the delivery of health services.

The function and product/service line yin-yang

So – take a step back and ask if function and product/service line, traditionally hostile forces (frenemies), can complement each other in the delivery of value addition and ultimately positive bottom-line impact for the owners.

Where are the decisions made in your organization? Is it at the function level and in the comfort of grande corporate offices or on the front line of product and service delivery? Also, are such decisions effective at all?

Professionals we talk to on this subject are usually in exasperation that decisions are taken back at the corporate office by function honchos and imposed on them.

Imagine for a moment an army, where decisions are made at army headquarters and relayed to commanders on the front-line? Of course, by the time decisions are made by the Generals and transmitted back to the front line, the army would long be annihilated

Our interest is to understand, why we even have to ask this question at all? One would assume that like the army above, it’s a given that effective organization decision making happens at the front line – after all, that is where the nuts and bolts of business occur and not in back offices.

If there indeed is tension between decisions makers at the function level and those at the front line, then we can only conclude that:

  • The heads of function, don’t understand well the difference between strategic making authority and oversight – and tactical/operational decision making. Strategic decision making is one-off and manifests via strategy blueprints that are passed on to the front line cadres to implement. While tactical/operational decision making is a daily thing, happens in real time, and like the army example above, is effective when left in the hands of the front line staff
  • Functions usurping decision making powers of the front line is symptomatic of: staff competence issues at the corporate/function level and a flawed OD. paradigm at the organization

Effective organizations empower frontline cadres with tactical/operational decision making and leave the corporate headquarter or equivalent functions, to steer (not dictate) strategic decision making.

Please empower frontline staff if you want to operate a classic OD. machine!



Categories: You, the Leader!, Strategy

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