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Stop Making Those Decisions

In a 1995 article by A.E. Carlisle entitled simply, “MacGregor,” Carlisle tells the story of the title character who is a plant manager with a remarkable management style.  At the core of MacGregor’s style is his refusal to make any operating decisions.  Sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?  Yet his plant (even though it’s the oldest with the oldest equipment) turns out more product at a lower cost than any of his company’s other plants.  And when other plant manager jobs open, MacGregor’s managers are usually tapped to fill them.  So by refusing to make operating decisions, his plant and his people are the envy of the company?  How’s that work?  To learn how, please continue reading below.

To be clear, MacGregor does make decisions, but only the long-term, strategic ones.  Making daily operational decisions he believes is the responsibility of his managers . . . that, in his view, is what they were hired to do, and he’s not going to do their jobs for them.  So, when a manager says, “I’ve got a problem . . ., “  MacGregor offers a curt reply.  “Good!  Let me know how you decide to handle it.”

And what if one of his managers is poised to make a bad decision that will cost the company money?  He lets him or her go ahead with the bad decision assuming the cost to the company will not be catastrophic and that it will not materially affect the plant’s overall numbers.  We learn by doing, we learn by our mistakes, and MacGregor wants his plant to be a learning place where new thinking and experimentation are encouraged.

Even when a mistake is too significant to be allowed to go forward, MacGregor doesn’t take over the decision.  He will suggest that the manager involved take the problem to one or several of the other managers for their help and input, and then report back their conclusions and recommendations.

Note that MacGregor doesn’t take himself entirely out of the loop.  He does want to know what decisions are being made and how they are being implemented, but he keeps himself in an oversight position, not a hands-on position.

One other interesting wrinkle to MacGregor’s management system.  At their weekly management meetings, each manager reports his or her financial and production targets for the week with the action steps they intend to take to correct any shortfalls.  They also (and this is the interesting part) report on decisions they have made during the week and are required to give credit to other managers who may have helped them.   That gives credit where credit is due, fosters team spirit and cooperation, and also gives MacGregor a peek at leadership on his team . . . who does everyone else run to when they’ve got a problem to solve.

So what does MacGregor’s “no decision” management style do for him?
•    It frees up his time to work on high level, strategic activities.
•    It teaches self-reliance, responsibility, and accountability to his managers.
•    It promotes good communication between his managers and himself, but also amongst the managers themselves.
•    It infuses the company’s culture with team spirit and cooperation.
Not bad for a simple little exercise in leadership.

The MacGregor article really is a good one . . . it’s well-written, an easy read, and offers lots of good leadership tips.  You can read it in its entirety at:

http://www.cs.unc.edu/~quigg/fall08/MacGregor.pdf

 
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