Jill Pett: Beware of the ‘phantom’ decision maker

When did you last hear someone in your organisation suggest an initiative or an action with the justification that ‘the organisation’ or ‘the business’ wants us to do it? But who is ‘the business’ and who is owning the idea? Could it be that phantom decision maker ’the business’ who nobody sees or knows?

Hide from accountability

Some cite the phantom in order to avoid being accountable for potentially unpopular actions. Instead of risking “I have decided x or y”, they say “the business wants us to do x or y,” in an effort to escape any negativity associated with the decision and the fallout if an initiative ultimately fails. While it is rarely seen at CEO level, the marzipan layer of leadership in an organisation are especially likely to reference ‘the business’ as a way to justify their decisions, whilst more junior team members can use it as a way to give weight and leverage on their ideas: “I think the business will agree with me on this.”

It is a tempting cop-out for weak leaders and an easy habit to fall into. The danger is of course, that the subsequent ambiguity means an organisation becomes unclear on the direction of travel; going down a route without proper sponsorship of important initiatives, defying accepted best practice when it comes to corporate governance.

Call it out

Fortunately, it is a relatively easy problem to fix. It is a matter of awareness and calling out any deference to the phantom from others and checking yourself at the same time. You can remove the detrimental effects of unaccountability by saying “let’s not have any more referrals to ‘the business’ and let’s be clear on who supports this idea and where it comes from.”

No one will be banished to Room 101 by taking proper ownership of business initiatives and ‘the business’ will ultimately be all the better for it and the phantom banished.