Dennis Bakke – The Decision Maker

The Decision Maker aims to Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time. Dennis Bakke put current principles on leadership (delegating, engagement, low-level decision making) in a parable. As a student at Harvard Business School, Bakke made hundreds of decisions using the case-study method. He realized two things: decision-making is the best way to develop people; and that shouldn’t stop at business school.

When Tom and Jim take over the management of a production factory they decide to trust the people they’re about to lead. Based on the assumptions that people are unique, creative thinkers, learners and fallible. They do like a challenge, want to contribute and held responsible for their own actions and can make important decisions. That’s quite different from the previous management. It leads to both support and resistance, re-framing and iterative development from both the work force and the management.

The idea is simple, the results are powerful. Who’s close to the issue? Are they well acquainted with the context, the day-to-day details, and the big picture? Proximity matters, but so does perspective. Sometimes an outside perspective can be just as valuable as proximity. Has this person had experience making similar decisions? What were the consequences of those decisions? What kinds of decisions has this person made in other areas? Have they been good ones? Do you have confidence in them?

Nobody knows everything, and even an expert can benefit from advice. In a decision-maker culture, the decision-maker makes the final call but must ask for advice. Whom should a decision-maker approach for advice? Has this person had experience with this problem? There’s no teacher like experience. People in different positions see different things. The decision-maker asks a leader, a peer, someone who works in a position below them in the hierarchy—and even, if circumstances warrant, experts from outside the company.

Decisions have consequences—and decision-makers should be held accountable for theirs. At the same time, nobody is right all the time. The most important part of any decision is that the decision-maker fully engages  with the advice process, not just that he or she gets it “right.” When people are asked for advice, they start to feel ownership. Ideally, everyone who offers advice works for the success of the project as if it were their own. The advice process isn’t just about getting the right answer. It’s about building a strong team and creating a process of communication that will improve all decisions in a company.

Though the dialogues in the fable are lengthy and the principles applied obvious, the practice can be just as tough as described. Recommended for those willing to put their lessons learned into practice and need a (fictional) practice as companion.

About the Author

Dennis Bakke is the co-founder of Imagine Schools. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. Bakke previously co-founded and served as the president and CEO of AES, a Fortune 200 global power company. He lives with his wife in Arlington, VA.