Decision Making (Part One)

The Advice Process

One corner stone of self-managed bars is a practice called the “Advice Process”. In order to make a decision regarding the venue or the staff, a person must seek advice from people with expertise on the matter and from all the parties who are affected by and have to live with the decision. Usually, the decision maker is the person who noticed the issue or the opportunity for improvement. It can also be the person who is most affected by the decision. There is no obligation to incorporate every (piece of) advice to the final decision, but the ideas must be heard and taken into serious consideration. By consulting colleagues and challenging the experts, the advice process creates community, humility and learning. These byproducts themselves are contributing to the venues success, but the beauty of the Advice Process is it’s efficiency, accuracy and lack of bureaucracy.

First, it draws people whose advice is sought into the question at hand. They learn about the issues and become knowledgeable critics or cheerleaders. The sharing of information reinforces the feeling of community. Each person whose advice is sought feels honored and needed.

Second, asking for advice is an act of humility, which is one of the most important characteristics of a fun workplace. The act alone says, ‘I need you.’ The decision maker and the adviser are pushed into a closer relationship. In my experience, this makes it nearly impossible for the decision maker to simply ingore advice.

Third, making decisions in on-the-job education. Advice comes from people who have an understanding of the situation and care about the outcome. No other form of education or training can match this real-time experience.

Fourth, chances of reaching the best decision are greater than under conventional top-down approaches. The decision maker has the advantage of being closer to the issues and … usually has to live with the consequences of the decision.

Fifth, the process is just plain fun for the decision maker because it mirrors the joy found in playing team sports … The advice process stimulates initiative and creativity, which are enhanced by wisdom from knowledgeable people elsewhere in the organization”

Dennis Bakke, Co-Founder of AES (Joy at Work, 2005)

The bigger the decision is, say purchasing an expensive ice machine or a fridge, the more people must be heard. Sometimes this means reaching out to the CEO (if you have one), owner or the board of directors. With smaller items like daily ingredients, shakers or prep equipment one doesn’t have to ask as many people let alone organize a meeting to make a decision. Many times, dropping a message to a colleague or brainstorming while prepping can be considered as “seeking advice” without making a big fuss about the process.

Traditionally, decisions are approved at the top of the pyramid, which easily creates a bottleneck, since the workers and the middle management can’t act before they get the green light from “the boss”.  In a Teal environment, if a leader or an owner needs to be consulted during the Advice Process, they can take a role of a coach, asking tough questions and giving straight forward opinions. This way, their knowledge is used only for their expertise, not to execute someone else’s idea. Thus, they are quickly free to tackle the next question in hand and avoid creating a bottleneck at their end. Meanwhile, that someone else gathers and organizes the different perspectives and advice for the final decision. This whole process helps motivating the team by giving them a real sense of meaning and belonging (which are by the way highly important for example to millennials – check out Simon Sineks “Start With Why”, “Leaders Eat Last” books and watch other mediums like Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace), as well as boosts motivation and initiative.

Using the Advice Process doesn’t mean that the decision is a watered down consensus and that people could hide behind the collective decision. If things don’t go as planned, the ownership of the decision still stays with the decision maker, the initiator. However, some decisions are better to be perceived as mutual decisions and acknowledge that a possible mistake that happens is a collective mistake, not one persons mishap. For example, a quite common problem we have in this industry is that we can’t know for sure how busy we are going to be on a given day. If one person says the words that everyone is thinking “should someone have a day off tomorrow, there are so many of us rostered on” and as a team you agree that it’s a good idea to give Paul a day off, don’t blame the initiator when the shit hits the fan unexpectedly on a Tuesday night. At least not for long.. But on the other hand, if you are in charge of rosters and forgot to roster enough people on for a random Tuesday booking, own up to your friends and move on, mistakes happen.

Joint Problem Solving and Decision Making Process

To reach a decision, you can also use a specific joint problem solving and decision making process. First a facilitator is chosen for the meeting. The agenda for the meeting is set on the day to discuss matters that are relevant to the members who are present. A facilitators job is not to make statements, suggestions or decisions but to only ask questions to keep the conversation going. What is your proposal, what are your set of reasons and/or logical basis for these actions or beliefs? These answers are then listed in a flip board. In a second round, these proposals are reviewed, improved and refined if needed. In a third round the proposals are put to a group decision. A good thing to notice is, that the basis for the decision making is not a consensus, but a general agreement. For a solution to be accepted, it is enough that nobody has a principled objection. This means that a member cannot veto a decision just because they feel their solution (or anyone’s for that matter) would have been preferable due to personal reasons.

As long as there is not a principled objection (just for the sake of it), a decision can be made and everyone still knows it can be revisited if more information is available in the future. There might not be a perfect solution that would please everyone. Moreover, trying to find that unicorn can prove to be exhausting, time consuming and inefficient. By using this technique, it is possible to reach a collective decision, without a single member lobbying for their, possibly, narrow sight or personal benefit. If the team gets stuck, despite their training and meeting techniques, they can always reach out to an outside facilitator or coach. Later on if the restaurant group has more venues than one, it is also possible to consult other teams for guidance, since they might have had to deal with the same issue before.

To conclude, even without a hierarchy and having a boss calling the shots, it doesn’t mean everyone can just make any decision at any time. That would create havoc. Organizing several problem solving meetings and trying to reach a consensus with everyone who is present is exhausting and impractical. Moreover, the result would most likely be watered down and too broad, since pleasing everyone (and eventually no one) simultaneously is not a desirable strategy. Therefore, anyone who wants to make a decision must seek advice before doing so.

Something to remember. Leaders and CEO’s of Teal organizations are not hiding or trying to escape their responsibilities. They are not hands-off and weak by letting go of some of their decision making power. They are actually better informed and more influential, since people from all corners of the organization are asking for their advice. The information they receive and the questions that come their way are not polished, and haven’t lost their true essence, since they haven’t been altered through the multiple layers of middle management.

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Mika Ammunét Written by:

Bar Manager, Future Bar Owner

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