Re: Shared Authority LO2088
Thu, 13 Jul 1995 11:47:46 -0400

Replying to LO2062 --

In a message dated 95-07-12 23:25:57 EDT, David E. Birren wrote:

>Here are a few questions to consider: Are top-level managers' jobs
>defined primarily by their roles as authority figures and decision makers?
>If so, then the concept of shared authority and decision-making could be
>very threatening, such that these folks could face obsolescence. Might
>that be a significant source of resistance to change?
>>I don't feel that bottom level staff are trying to replace top level
>>authority in this issue, but merely want to share their expertise.
>The intent of mid- and lower-level folks may not be relevant. What counts
>is how the top people interpret the behavior. It may help to clarify
>intentions, but I'd say the problem is in the culture, and that's the
>domain of the top folks.
>There seem to be some CEOs and other mucky-mucks on this list. Can we
>hear from them on this issue?


I am a retired VP from the high technology arena. I don't now -- and did
not then -- consider myself a "mucky-muck." I did, however, run an
independent business unit with approximately 425 people and revenues in
excess of $100 million.

It seems to me that top management's view of shared authority and decision
making is probably as diverse as the number of people in top management.
In general, I think that managers who judge ideas on merit and not on
one's rank or status in the organization will encourage shared decision
making and authority. Managers who define themselves more in terms of
rank will tend not to.

It was my experience that the further down in the organization that
decisions were made, the better we did in the following areas: financial
results, product innovation, and cycle time reduction. A corollary to
that is we also had accountability commensurate with that authority.
People could make decisions and act; they were judged on the quality of
those decisions. Negative outcomes were judged based on cause. If the
decision was faulty because of poor analytical work or judgment, the
individual or team was counseled. If the failed project was _pushing the
envelope_, we made sure that the individual or team was recognized for
taking entrepreneurial risk, rewarded for same, and used as a positive
example so that the entire business unit _learned_ from a well designed
experiment that failed. People acted in the belief that innovation would
be rewarded, sloppy work punished.

It seemed to work, based on measures like cycle time reduction, revenue
and profit growth, new product introductions, customer satisfaction,
employee morale, and the like.

There are two other points that may be in order One, it seems to me that
top management must insure that enough training and development is in
place so that employees have the skills required to truly act and decide
in an informed way. Second, very few senior managers have enough time,
even if they have enough brain cells, to be anything other than
continually on the verge of obsolescence. If they attempt to be more
expert than the employees who "merely want to share their expertise," they
may not truly understand their role as senior management.

Finally, let me say how much I've enjoyed this forum and the many
excellent postings.

Best regards,
Byrd M. Ball
Atlanta, GA