The pandemic has shown how important it is for charities to be able to respond to changes in their environment quickly. To be adaptive you must be able to swiftly sense changes in your environment or to people’s needs; and you must be able make fast decisions about how to respond to such change.
Strategy is traditionally developed by senior leadership to be implemented by everyone else. Your three-to-five-to-ten-year strategy probably includes detailed plans for what you want to achieve and the activities and programmes you will do in that period. If these decisions are fixed by leadership, there can be little room for manoeuvre.
Moreover, with strategic decision-making power concentrated at the top, changes sensed at the frontline need to be passed all the way up and back down again before a change is made; not a particularly agile or responsive way of working Click To Tweet
How can we share decision-making power?
Timely responses need accurate, up-to-date information on users’ needs and the operating environment. This information can be used to regularly review priorities and activities. Power should not sit solely with senior leadership but be shared across the charity. This is known as decentralised decision–making.
Decentralised decision-making is a key principle of lean thinking. Only decisions that are infrequent, long-lasting, and relevant to the whole organisation should be made centrally. Decisions that are frequent, time-critical, and require local information should be decentralised.
Applying decentralised decision–making to the charity sector would mean senior leaders—alongside staff, volunteers, and service-users—setting strategic decisions about long-term goals and objectives, but giving management, front-line staff, volunteers and service users more decision-making power over how those long-term objectives are achieved. According to this approach, decisions on what type of service you should deliver, to who, and what you should prioritise are time-critical and require local information so should be frequent and decentralised.
Sharing power is likely to make your activity more relevant. If you let those who are implementing the decisions make the decisions, you’ll find you can adapt faster. Sharing power can also support better user involvement and collaboration across your organisation.
We need to understand the barriers to power sharing
There are lots of barriers to decentralising decision making, from overcoming prevailing power dynamics to addressing skills gaps. We need to understand what makes decentralised decision making difficult to introduce, and how we might overcome these barriers.
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