Avoid trying to build too much “buy-in” into decision making

There are global companies that attempt to elicit “buy-in” for key decisions. There is no place for a priori eliciting of “buy-in” in very diverse global firms. It just does not work. The goal of this post is to explain why not and provide an alternative.

In many parts of the world, management is autocratic and autocracy is not a pejorative term. Autocratic management has the right and privilege to decide, and in return, autocratic management assumes responsibility and does not share blame. Autocratic management can be more compassionate than more democratic forms of leadership, because compassion comes with the territory of being an autocrat.

The autocratic manager has subordinates who feel relieved that they are asked to do, not decide. They willingly relinquish the power of decision to the autocrat, as well as the larger salary and reserved parking spot.

Autocratic management is often prompted up by religious beliefs, such as the 5 unequal relationships of Confucius. There also may be a political preference for autocracy due to a societal fear of the instability which stems from the divisiveness caused by overly democratic decision making process.

The  global companies that try to get buy-in for key management decisions believe that there is a phenomenal upside. It is true; buy-in has a phenomenal upside, in some cultures. Yet, cementing a priori buy-in is limited to very few cultures and appears to be a bit of an idiosyncratic quirk, observed in such diverse places as Japan, starts ups of a certain nature, companies with a strong participative ideology slash religion of participation, and companies which have perhaps overdosed on OD as a religion!

Too much focus on buy-in may result in a growing lack of trust in management’s ability in cultures with an autocratic streak to them. Worse, too much reliance on buy-in may cause folks to feel that management is dithering and the company is “unsafe”.

Pragmatism is suggested as the best medicine. In autocratic cultures, it is best to dress up buy-in as risk mitigation, rather than challenging the decision itself.

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