A recipe for empowering rising leaders with more authority, and for driving efficiency in a growing organization.
In a startup’s early stages, decision-making is concentrated with a small team — usually founders and their closely-knit and highly-motivated early hires. Well-informed, timely, and savvy decisions during these nascent days are crucial for the business’s survival. But as the organization grows, communication channels increase exponentially, and suddenly our expert decision-makers find themselves removed — physically and temporally — from day-to-day decisions.
At this stage, if our founding heroes are the only ones with the tools to make wise decisions for the business, then bad things start to happen. Bottlenecks form, delaying action and hindering the organization’s efficiency and (ironically) its growth. Cultural costs also accrue in the form of disempowerment among managers and individual contributors, real or perceived lack of trust from leadership, and barriers to career development.
At Highspot, we believe that value-driven processes drive better outcomes and that processes must rise to meet the company’s current scale and trajectory.
With these principles in mind, Highspot’s executive team has been examining how to better empower people at all levels to facilitate important business decisions, keep us agile, and unleash growth — for our people and for our business. As executives, we want to get out of the way where we can, creating opportunities for others to lead and to grow. Doing that responsibly requires not only delegation, but thoughtfully setting people up for success.
I’m excited to share what we’ve created: The G.R.E.A.T. Decision Making model describes five essential ingredients to equip decision-makers for success. We have rolled this out company-wide and, because enablement is kind of our thing, we followed-through by adding the new model to our core operating documentation, management training, and new employee onboarding program so that everyone is equipped and trained to understand and practice it.
The five G.R.E.A.T. ingredients are:
Guardrails are parameters for making a decision that help the decision-maker understand their options and constraints. Guardrails may include timeline and budgetary considerations, option constraints, and other requirements. For example, you might say, “We need to make a decision on this by next Friday. The solution should be within the department’s travel and expense budget and needs sign-off from Finance.”
Resources, first and foremost, means context. A decision-maker needs all relevant context and a thorough understanding of the essential question, “what problem are we solving?” Providing context takes investment at first. As a leader, you will find yourself thinking, “I could make this decision faster myself” — and you’ll be right. But empowering and growing your people means taking the time to bring them along for the whole process so they are equipped to make an educated decision. While context is the primary resource, other resources might include tangible assets like budget, headcount, internal or external documentation, and referrals to other subject-matter experts (SMEs) who can help them weigh options. You might ask, “Do you feel good about making this decision given the context and resources I’ve provided?”
Expectations complement context. They are the outcomes you want from the decision. Is the goal to increase win rate? To select a new technology that solves a specific problem? Think about what success looks like and be clear with the decision-maker up-front so they can self-evaluate whether their decision makes sense. Share any expectations you have about how the decision should be made, whether autocratic or consensus or somewhere in the middle. Of course, expectations aren’t always 100% clear; part of good leadership is navigating uncertainty and ambiguity. Help the decision-maker understand when they are dealing with well-understood data and facts vs. educated guesses and information gaps. You might ask, “Do you feel confident you understand what a good outcome looks like?”
Accountability follows from expectations and it also imports the project management aspects of decision-making. Decision-makers must understand not only what outcomes flow from a decision, but how far their responsibility and authority extends, when and what they are expected to deliver, and possible consequences if things go poorly or they fail to follow-through. Check for understanding with the decision-maker and establish next steps, milestones, and frequency of check-ins. You might say, “Let’s meet again in a week to give you time to process and ensure we’re aligned. From there we can agree on milestones and establish a check-in cadence.”
Trust is the final and most critical ingredient for empowering decision-makers. You will need to both honestly trust in the decision-maker and communicate that trust to them. Ask yourself, if the decision-maker arrives at a different conclusion than you would, but one which is supported by solid reasoning and evidence, are you prepared to support them? When it comes to demonstrating trust, you’ll do best to lead by example over time: routinely keep the commitments you make, demonstrate thoughtful and careful decision-making, admit your mistakes, be open about your principles and goals, and show your work. If you make those things a habit, then your team will be primed to trust you and to feel trusted by you when it comes time to manage an important decision.
So we’ve rolled out this new model; now what happens? As we continue to equip, train, and coach our senior leaders on G.R.E.A.T. Decision Making, we expect to see them employ this model as a planning and empowerment tool. We also see it as a retrospective aid in cases where a decision gets blocked on leadership. For example, I might ask myself, “What ingredient was missing that resulted in this decision getting escalated to me?” For me, it’s usually that I failed to provide Resources, in the form of relevant context, so that someone else would be able to see the whole board and suggest the next move. Additionally, as G.R.E.A.T. Decision Making gets encoded in our core operating rhythms, we hope managers and individual contributors will leverage it with their leaders to encourage delegation, unlock new opportunities, and hone their decision-making prowess (remember, managing up matters!). I hope you find it useful as well, whether you’re looking to grow as a decision-maker or to enable new decision-makers on your team.