Have you ever been working on something and needed your manager to make a decision? You ask them. And then chase them. And chase again.
Without an answer, you can’t move forward because you don’t know what course of action is best – or what they would want you to do. So the task stalls, and in the worst cases, doesn’t pick up again.
This is a real problem for lots of people at work, and there are four main reasons why it takes so long to get a decision. When you understand these, you can work around them and help your manager get what they need so that you can get your answer and everyone can get back to work.
1. They Don’t Know What The Answer Is
Your manager is only human. He or she probably doesn’t have the answers to every single question that they are asked every day. They may be taking their time to make a decision because they are trying to gather more facts or think critically about the best route forward.
Resolve by: Are you asking the right person? Perhaps they don’t have the answer because they don’t have all the facts to make the decision. Another manager may be better placed to answer your question. If you really need that person to make the decision, help them understand the situation better by giving them the background and bringing them up to speed on the work. Use a mind-mapping tool to quickly summarize the status and progress so that they are aware of the implications of the decision.
2. They Don’t Know If They Can Make the Decision
Perhaps your manager doesn’t know if they can make the decision. This could be for two reasons.
First, they know it’s in their gift to have the final say but the outcome of the decision is going to be difficult, or create conflict. For example, canceling a contract or making staff redundant. They could be delaying the decision because they are trying to put off having to make the difficult choice. It’s not terribly helpful behavior, but it’s understandable.
Second, they don’t know if it is their decision to make. Perhaps it looks like it strays into the ownership of another manager. Perhaps it affects a team wider than their own. For whatever reason, perhaps they are delaying making the decision because they don’t know if it’s their responsibility to do so.
Resolve by: Talk to your manager. You don’t want to suggest that they are scared of making the decision but you could offer to set up a meeting with other managers so that you can all talk through the potential outcomes and how best to approach this challenging situation.
3. They Need Someone Else To Approve the Decision
Maybe they’ve made the decision already and are not in a position to tell you the outcome because it needs to go to someone else to be ratified.
In large organizations, complex or strategic decisions often need several layers of management sign off. It’s just how the business works. However, this level of oversight can add significant time to your task because you are stuck waiting while the business machine goes through the motions to pop out the decision at the end.
This is typically the case when the decision involves funding – managers have limits that they can approve and if your request goes above this limit they’ll need to involve other levels of the hierarchy before they can sign it off. The same goes for securing resources from other teams, decisions that involve HR or your Legal department, getting approval for press releases if that needs to be run through your Media department, and so on.
Resolve by: Talk to your manager to find out what the path to a decision is. You can’t speed it up, most likely, but at least it will manage your expectations to know what is coming. If you are aware that your funding request needs to wait until the next budget committee meeting in two weeks then at least you can plan around that and be patient until then!
4. They Are Only One of Several People Involved
Decisions take longer the more people who are involved. There’s more debate, there’s more challenge and conflict to work through. People want to chat about the situation for ages and it takes longer to get to an outcome where everyone can agree.
This democratic process can feel good but it adds significant delay, especially when you can’t get the people together to even have the conversations because their diaries are so busy.
Resolve by: Wherever you can, keep the roles and responsibilities clear and try to create situations where the decisions are the responsibility of one person. Try to avoid ending up with multiple people who have a stake in the decision, or at least get their input first before you go on to ask the most senior person to make the final call.
These four reasons are commonly why decisions take a long time, but your particular delay could be caused by anything: your manager being too busy, other projects taking priority, a leave of absence or sickness, or simply that they have forgotten.
The best thing to do when you notice that time is passing and you are still without a decision is to remind your manager of the importance of their input. Suggest some recommendations for the next steps to help them clarify what the potential options are. They might go for one of your recommendations or they might not, but either way, at least you’ll have a route forward! You can normally influence the speed of decisions if you are helpful and considerate.
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.