Why Won’t My Boss Make That Decision?

by Joanna Pineda Posted on June 16, 2009

Boss unable to make a decision I hear it all the time from clients and prospects.  “My boss isn’t ready to make a decision and I don’t know why.”  “We are delaying our decision-making.”  “We are not ready to move forward and don’t have a timeframe.”  “We’re just gathering information, we don’t have a timetable.”

At first blush, it just doesn’t make any sense:  organizations expend time and effort needed to put out an RFP (request for proposal), participate in meetings and demos, review proposals, check references, yada, yada — and then sit and don’t make a decision. 

So why doesn’t the CEO just make the decision? After many years of selling to organizations of all sizes, in all industries, here’s why I think  CEOs don’t/won’t make a decision their staff is dying for them to make.

The initiative doesn’t have support from the top. Sometimes, the initiative to redesign a Web site or put in a new back office has a lot of middle management support, but not top support.  Middle management has the okay to research and evaluate but no commitment from the top that resources will ultimately be made available.  So if you’re asking your boss if it’s okay to research new phone systems, you need to know that your boss believes a new phone system is needed, has money in the budget and will make a decision.  Otherwise, he’s just humoring you when he blesses the research effort.

The CEO doesn’t think he needs to make the decision right now. This is a tricky one.  Your CEO might believe with all her heart that you need a new membership database, but she isn’t convinced that the issue is urgent, which means she can delay a decision.  You need to make the case that a decision is urgent and necessary.  Prepare a cost-benefit analysis, point to pain points, and illuminate the work arounds you’re living with.

The budget can’t support the investment. In some organizations, budgets are super secret and the CEO can’t/won’t tell you that the budget can’t really support new servers this year.  If you can’t get a hard number, at least ask for a range.

The CEO is still shopping the solution and budget. Often, CEOs will use the RFP process to conduct research about what’s out there, to get an idea of what she should put in the budget, etc.  If this is the case in your organization, it’s best to know that a decision may be far off and use the RFP process to educate your CEO and team.

The CEO is looking for outside validation. It happens all the time: the CEO wants to make sure the solution proposed by staff is sound, so they bring in a consultant.  If your CEO never trusts staff recommendations, you have trouble.  But it’s also legitimate for a CEO to want third party validation of a solution to cover his bases or because the organization’s governance requires it.  Remember that at some point, the Board will ask the CEO why the heck xx decision was made; he’s going to need talking points he can rely on.

So if your CEO is sitting on an important decision, ask yourself what you can do to make a decision urgent, necessary and defensible.

How about you?  How do you get your boss to make a decision?  What tactics have worked best?

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