How to decentralize decision-making in a company where 80% of the workforce are field workers belonging to 12 local units?

Shining light on a shot in the dark

A service company with +900 employees was on a journey to decentralize decision-making. The top leadership team was located at the headquarters office together with the support functions, while the field workers – which accounted for 80% of the workforce – worked from 12 local units.

Innovisor was brought in to run an organizational diagnostic with a focus on whether there was support for decentralization of decisions, and – if so – what actions the leadership needed to take to move forward in this journey. The diagnostic consisted of two tasks:

  • to map the organization’s decision-making process
  • to identify key focus areas for its change efforts
Uncovered: blind spots of dissatisfaction

The organizational diagnostic confirmed that the service company was on the right track. There was strong support for decentralization.

Data on the relationships of who people go to for decision-making showed a highly centralized decision-making structure. Employees went directly to the top leadership team for decision-making and even bypassed the unit leaders. In fact, top leaders were sought out 14 times more than the average employee when decisions needed to be made.

Then, when asked to rate the current decision-making process, it was clear that the process was perceived as ineffective across all hierarchical levels – including top leadership. The unit leaders, however, showed the most dissatisfaction with the decision-making. When asked about the efficiency of the current decision-making process, they were 15% less satisfied than the employees, and 30% less satisfied than the top leadership.

The unit leaders were only connected through a couple of people from the top leadership – not with each other. This had resulted in a lot of unvoiced concerns and the diagnostic uncovered that 82% of them had specific suggestions for improvement of the decision-making process.

This had to change!

The right tactics activated the untapped potential

The top leadership had the right insights to move forward with their decentralization activities. Decentralization of decision-making was achieved through the following actions:

  1. Top leadership initiated cross-collaborative initiatives for the unit leaders

The unit leaders were put into groups of 6 to 8 persons. The main characteristic of the groups was that the unit leaders were not yet connected. Each of the groups was asked to design the optimal decision-making process. The designs were then presented to the top leadership. This helped top leadership to get detailed input on what they needed to prioritize to decentralize decision-making, and it increased the connectivity between both unit leaders and top leadership. These were critical connections for unit leaders to know where to go to for decision-making

  1. Top leadership first worked with the most positive units for decentralization of decision-making

The organizational diagnostic showed that certain local units were already underway with the decentralization. These had established clear decision paths, which resulted in a higher degree of satisfaction in their units. When asked if they knew where to go to get a decision made, the most positive unit scored 26% higher than the most negative unit. The positive units were clearly doing something right and became impactful change partners to the top leadership in the organization-wide decentralization process. Focusing on the most positive units first created the needed momentum right from the start.