Julie Adamen is the principal of Adamen Inc., a national consulting and employment firm specializing in the community management industry formed in 1997. She is a recognized expert in community management, community management compensation and association and management company operations. She is a prolific author, educator, motivational speaker and trainer for community managers and Boards of Directors. She is the author and publisher of online classes for managers, Community Association Management 101, a series of online classes for community association management professionals and volunteers.
As either the agent of the Board or as an employee you take a problem or policy issue you genuinely do not have the authority and/or knowledge to resolve, to your supervisor, be they a Board member or management company executive. They:
1) Tell you to resolve the issue yourself (authority given)
2) Send it “upstairs” for someone else to deal with (the “out of my hair” play)
3) Say they’ll get back to you (and never do)
4) Change the subject( the “let’s not discuss it” tactic)
5) Inform you that the issue will be tabled for now (the put off)
Each of these, except for number 1, is a no-decision decision and depending upon the matter at hand, can have effects both subtle and gross on myriad people and issues. The interesting thing is that the effects can be unintentional or can be very intentional. Either way, the no-decision decision thwarts efficient and effective work flow, dampens morale and often has a detrimental financial impact.
Effects of the no-decision decision
Stops the flow of work traffic like the Walking Dead. Everyone has been caught in a traffic jam: There you sit for 30, 40, 50 minutes or more crawling along at a snail’s pace. When you finally are close enough to see what is causing the hold-up (by now you are thinking: Zombie Apocalypse!), it turns out to be a little old guy completely off the side of the road in a Chevy Luv Truck (look that up, youngsters!) with a flat. That’s all. It’s the same with the no-decision decision: One clog in the flow of decision making traffic and everything jams up behind it. Community management is like a big wheel that keeps on turning with one deadline to meet after another. Any shortage of cogent decision making at the association or management company level – from the manager all the way to the executive who sets the example – starts out as one little old guy with a flat, but rapidly turns in to the end of times for efficient work-flow.
Impacts morale and performance
Example #1: A homeowner wants a tree removed, and has gone through all proper procedures to obtain permission from the Board. The Board tables the issue, month after month, fearing political retribution from other owners, yet at the same time will not tell the homeowner “no” he can’t have the tree removed (make a decision). This leaves the manager in the position of responsibility as point-person for the homeowner but with no authority, in addition to having to apologize for the Board’s inaction. The Board destroys staff morale by transmitting they are less important than the Board’s political safety. Low morale = steadily lowered performance. We’ve all been there; it’s not a happy place. The worst part is we know it won’t be an isolated incident because the indecisive tend to stay indecisive. The no-decision makers don’t usually think about their effect on others, but reticence to commit has a very negative impact on staff morale and performance.
Example #2: Manager Bill, at the request of a Board, emails the supervising executive Laura asking that Laura meet with that Board to discuss Project X. Assume Project X is important to the Board, and the outcome of the meeting will have direct bearing on whether or not the account stays with Bill and Laura’s management company. Laura fails to answer three emails and 2 voicemails in a one-week period. Manager Bill has to explain, delicately and without throwing Laura under the bus, that he just can’t get a response. Bill knows the Board only needs a little executive attention from Laura and all will be well; yet Laura fails to respond to repeated requests. For both the Board and Bill there is feeling of malaise and confusion. Bill feels sabotaged. The Board feels as if their business isn’t important to Laura, and terminates their contract. Bill’s salary is reduced due to the loss of the account. Laura isn’t happy with the account loss, but is quickly on to other crises. Bill feels as if he can’t trust Laura. So: The no decision-decision (not answering communication) results in: Loss of account, (financial impact) poor staff morale, and eventual loss of a staff member to a competitor as well (resource loss).
Financial impacts of a no-decision decision. The easiest no-decision decision to point to is any Board failing to fund reserves through a no-decision decision. The reserve study says fund, management says fund, the Board talks about special assessments, raising dues and a combination thereof, yet is unable to bring themselves to a vote on the matter because it creates a political mess for them (i.e., “tabled forever”). Or, how about the managers outlined previously who, because they suffered the effects of a no-decision decision, simply decide to pull up stakes and head to another company? Turnover costs real money. Either way or myriad others, the no-decision makers of this world would do themselves and everyone else a favor if they would put a price tag on their indecisiveness. Of course, that would require a decision to do so.
Are they evil? The no-decision makers aren’t directly trying to hurt you, it’s just how they are. Fear, lack of information or lack of understanding of their true role and responsibilities all play a part in forming a no-decision maker, and will take more than a pep talk to repair. Good decision making skills takes study, coaching and mentoring and still some folks are never able to perform (a personal flaw).
What can you do? The decision making process is sufficiently complicated in the first place to bedevil academics; the no-decision making process is equally complicated. The process could be likened to what goes on in a black box: A mystery too complicated to quantify? Maybe. There are books aplenty on how to make a good decision, but getting your supervisors or Boards to make a decision? Not so much. If a decision is yours to make and you feel it is too overwhelming, seek help from a mentor, apply some of the techniques for successful decision making, and look at the root cause for your inability to decide. If the decision is not yours to make, unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do other than remove your personal feelings from the equation.
Unfortunately for us, a few of those no- decision makers were just re-elected to the Board, and, well, you understand, don’t you?
Footnotes: 1. Sadan, Elisheva (1997) Empowerment and Community Planning: Theory and Practice of People-Focused Social Solutions. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishers (in Hebrew). Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz introduced the nondecision-making in 1970 as a theory for controlling discussion. This is a critique of Robert Dahl’s assumption of pluralism in decision making, where all interests are represented by an open process. Thus Bachrach and Baratz contend that no decision-making is an overt strategy to control power.
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