Making Critical Decisions the R.A.P.I.D.

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by BILL TYSON • NOVEMBER 27, 2010

I believe it is increasingly important, no matter what the size and complexity of your organization is, to have a defined decision-making process. Having been a leader of extensive global and regional underwriting and marketing business units that require many fast and accurate decisions, my teams had no choice but to establish formal decision-making roles and responsibilities. In

they were fairly one dimensional.com that I featured in my blog post on organizational effectiveness. If your organization is in flux. at the outset of a project it is recommended that you decide which projects will follow RAPID and which ones will not.I. Mankins.D.  The Acronym RAPID describes the various roles and responsibilities for clear decision making within an organization. Implementing RAPID can be messy. To support these basic decision-making rules required constant interaction and an enormous amount of communication.  The objective with this approach is to create a more formalized. this tool is based upon thousands of quizzes taken and stored in their database over a 10 year period. it can reveal a convoluted and faulty decision-making process so there must be a full commitment to “check egos at the door” and accept the need for adopting RAPID as part of an organizational improvement initiative. and Paul Rogers. Their article: “Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance” which appeared in the January 2006 Harvard Business Reviewand has since become one of HBRs “10 must reads”. It is also useful as a “post mortem” tool to diagnose failed decisions – to see what element or elements in the RAPID process was/were lacking or missing so the next time a critical decision has to be made so you are not repeating the same mistakes over and over again. in a timely fashion. according to Marcia W. . One of the pitfalls of this approach can be that it actually slows decision-making down. and providing data and analysis to make a sensible choice. authors of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization.A. The web site http://www. According to a Bain and Company Study[2].com designed by Rogers and Blenko can help you assess your decision making prowess and also. Quick Summary of RAPID  RAPID was developed by Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko – two Bain & Company Consultants.simulator-orgeffectiveness. participatory approach towards decision-making process within an organization.retrospect. With respect to critical decisions. Executing a strategic plan successfully depends upon the success or failure of the actual people executing the plan to make good decisions. gathering input. Therefore. It stands to reason that if you can improve your team’s decision-making abilities then plan execution and results should also improve along the way. while these written authorities provided some clarity.P. it may not be the appropriate time to implement RAPID. it ultimately shows how power flows through an organization and/or business unit. Like the “5 Step Organizational Improvement program” simulator at www.decide-deliver. Blenko. written “lines of authority”. the average organization has the potential to more than double its ability to make and execute key decisions. Stands For: Recommend:  Making a proposal on a key decision. while most companies score only a 28. The RAPID[1] Decision Making Model goes a few steps further than what I call “written lines of authority” and is an easy but effective way to instill professional decision making within an organization. the best companies score an average of 71. Michael C. On a decision-effectiveness scale of 0 to 100. do the same type of assessment of your organization.    Here is What R.

Agree:    Perform:  Executing a decision once it’s made. Negotiating a modified proposal with the one who recommends if they have changes or concerns to the original proposal. Input:  Decide:    Characteristics of High Performance Companies That Use RAPID High-Performing organizations make good decisions quickly. achieving the right mix of control and creative freedom is critical for sustainable success. Determining which ones will follow the RAPID process is also required. Ambiguity is the enemy. each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. Action is the Goal. Blenko. Decision roles trump the organizational chart. Bringing the decision to closure by resolving any impasse in the decision-making process. Thus. A well-aligned organization reinforces roles and responsibilities. Decisions that build value are most important and thus. exercising veto power over the recommendation. have the highest priority on such a list. a communication plan needs to dovetail with the RAPID process. according to Marcia W. a group of 17 or more rarely makes any decisions. Committing the organization to implementing the decision. and winning their buy-in. Michael C. [3] A list of critical decisions in priority order must be part of the Strategic planning process.[4] . Some of the characteristics they exhibit are:           For complex issues that require rapid decision making. Remember the Rule of 7: Once you’ve got 7 people in a decision-making group. Serving as the single point of accountability. Escalating unresolved differences and issues to the decider if A and R cannot resolve their differences. authors of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization. That being said. Mankins. Speed and adaptability are key. Providing relevant facts to the one who recommends that shed light on the proposal’s feasibility and practical implications.  Seeing that the decision is implemented properly and effectively. Consulting with input providers – hearing and incorporating their views. Practicing beats preaching. If necessary. and Paul Rogers.

and Paul Rogers. these scenarios are not uncommon. executive director (ED) of the Texas High School Project. 85% of executives are dissatisfied with the efficiency and effectiveness of their companies’ meetings. a tool called RAPID® has been highly effective. Managers spend 50% or more of their time in meetings. Each letter stands for a specific role or activity. and everyone she speaks to gives a slightly different answer. Among them. Blenko. but Bain & Company research shows that two-thirds of meetings end before participants can make important decisions. There are a variety of tools available to diagnose the source of decision-making problems and to map out how key decisions should be made going forward. authors of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization. Unfortunately. I was able to sit down with top-tier candidates and demonstrate the clear lines of authority and responsibility they would have. And those difficulties can be a source of frustration for everyone involved. and also easily adaptable to different situations. team sizes. However. leaving his staff feeling out of the loop and slightly disgruntled. depending on the nature and context of the decision and the size of the group. both for an organization overall. an executive director promises an old friend that his organization will take on a complex project.” RAPID is an acronym for the different roles people can have or the activities they take on during a decision-making process. people can have more than one letter assigned to them. and types of organizations. Not surprisingly. and it allayed concerns about the chain of command and their scope of decision-making working with me. [5] RAPID Decision-Making Without consulting any of the people who will actually have to do the work. “We were able to hire higher quality people for key senior management positions as a result of using RAPID. noted. Decision-making can be difficult for reasons ranging from vague reporting structures to the complexities that naturally arise when an organization is growing and more people have seats at the leadership table. Mankins. Michael C. Gaining greater clarity around who is involved in a decision and who is not can provide substantial and far-reaching benefits. A job candidate asks about how major decisions are made in an organization. Twelve busy staff members spend multiple hours discussing a fairly minor issue—whether the organization should hire a summer intern—but no one is clear who has the final say. and the meeting ends without a decision. and in terms of attracting and retaining talent. As John Fitzpatrick. according to Marcia W. The order of the letters is not important—“R-A-P-I-D” happens to be the easiest .

“P” stands for “perform. and what the decision-making process entails. saves time and allows everyone to focus on the right things. They feel more engaged just from understanding something that had been opaque to them before. “Even though there are people who aren’t involved.” The “D” has final authority. Aspire Schools Chief Executive Officer Don Shalvey noted that by using RAPID. We feel we are much more transparent and accountable. An "A" is essentially an "I" with more power. Often. the more people with an "A. “we have much greater clarity on roles. for example. and is the only individual who can commit the organization to action—hiring someone. Naming someone an "A" means that the organization needs their support.” It’s unlikely that a “P” who is also an “I” will feel the need to say that." the more time and effort it takes to make a decision.way to remember the roles. the “D” is one person.” . But if. but also setting useful boundaries. put it. an "A" has a stronger voice during the recommendation process. spending money.” You’ve no doubt heard at least one person say something like. “D” means “decide. . ED of The Justice Project. an individual who is a “P” is also an “I. . the “R” does most of the work to secure the decision. Including someone as an "I" says that the organization values the facts and perspectives he or she brings to the decision. In other words. The benefits of RAPID RAPID can help people be more thoughtful about how decisions should be made. or making a legally-binding agreement. then the “D” would mean the group of people who constitute the winning vote. a board of directors has a parliamentary voting structure. I could have told them . Generally.” Being clear about who is involved in a decision can also generate greater buy-in. they’re ecstatic just to know who is involved. while taking others out of the loop or minimizing their involvement. Things get done only after the “D” gives the okay. Generally. ensures that others understand what they need to do. "I" stands for "input. the tool helps give real accountability to the right people. If only they had asked me before they decided. “This is a mess. and keeps things moving along. involving the right people." An "I" must be consulted on a recommendation before a decision is made. an advocacy nonprofit. we’ll explain the roles and activities in the order in which they likely will appear during any given decision-making process: “R” stands for “recommender”—the person who initiates or drives the process.” This is a person who carries out the decision once it has been made. "A" stands for an individual who needs to "agree with" or "approve" a recommendation. In doing so. Although an "I" has the right to be heard. The “R” is the “go to” person who sticks with the process from start to finish. he or she does not have a vote or a veto. allowing power to be shared. In turn. Here. An "A" who raises concerns with a proposal must work with the recommender to develop an alternative or elevate the issue to the person who will decide. As Joyce McGee.

Side effects and trade-offs There is no getting away from the fact that implementing RAPID can be messy. involving the right people in decision-making can drive better decisions. made. of course. and more effectively.” and for some organizations. In doing so. Someone must choose whether or not to move a decision into the RAPID process—even if he or she is not officially an “R!” But once RAPID is introduced. Is this the right time and place for your organization to use RAPID? Is your organization ready to use RAPID? To find out. Using RAPID means trading ambiguity for transparency. particularly if it exposes an existing process that is convoluted or sorely imbalanced. a decision is better made by consensus (where everyone has an “A”). For example: Implementing RAPID can mean trading a highly participatory decision-making culture for a faster and more efficient one. or reveals a complete lack of process. RAPID can reveal when what has been touted as a highly participatory decision-making culture is in fact more show than substance. what constitutes a strategic change that needs to go to the board. which means more impact. Using RAPID entails mapping how decisions are. it essentially exposes the way in which power flows through the organization. though. each decision requires some sort of judgment call. The fact is that most decisions in most organizations are best made quickly and efficiently. Sometimes. it will test the resilience of the management team. Is there is a shared sense of frustration with decision-making across the organization? When people across an organization feel that decisions take too long or that the wrong people are involved. And some of its potential side effects and trade-offs can make people uncomfortable. Some organizations’ leaders prefer to leave control of certain issues a little bit ambiguous. an ED may need to be able to select and hire key staff members at his or her discretion. For example. In the short term. and assessing whether the timing is right to introduce it. or even by voting (such as requiring 51 percent of the board for a “D”). using very few “A’s” and one “D. particularly in organizations long accustomed to functioning with their original founder and a familial set of relationships. Whether the tradeoff is appropriate depends on the nature of the decision. Making power explicit in this way can cause discomfort. RAPID makes relationships more “professional. The keys are: understanding how the tool works. versus a tactical decision that is within the purview of the ED? In reality.Finally. the process of figuring that out—using the possibility of RAPID as a diagnostic—will likely add value by providing some clarity about how your organization functions. you can ask yourself the following questions. RAPID . As a result. and will be. ambiguity is no longer an option. this is a difficult step to take.” For example. RAPID helps organizations achieve their goals—more efficiently. figuring out what your organization needs from RAPID. Most organizations can benefit from RAPID. But even if it turns out that RAPID is not the right choice for your organization at this time.

While the acronym RAPID captures a key benefit of the tool—the ability to make decisions more swiftly—it can also suggest to people that this is a process to be rushed. However. Are the organization’s leaders personally ready for RAPID? If the people in power are uncomfortable making that power explicit. Is decision-making the real problem? If the leadership and management team are good. Hearing these out. and working through to the right solution takes time. and pace yourself and your organization. Don't put more than a dozen such decisions on the list at the outset.can be a useful tool. Make the case for the tool before you introduce it. without firm leadership. Can you allow enough time to decide how to decide? Changing how decisions are made strikes at the heart of most organizations. Small. People whose roles are thrust into the spotlight often have strong points of view and feelings. It is not. Many function well with the original founder and a familial set of relationships. growing organizations need nurturing. Make sure that everyone understands the tool. then RAPID can likely help. The process of assigning roles is best done iteratively and expeditiously.” Tell the organization what you want to do and why. then RAPID will not help. if only for a particular decision. they should not attempt RAPID. Understand that many people will need to adjust to the roles they are assigned in the RAPID process. so you need to know when you will be making key decisions and putting them into action. Managing inclusion can be tricky. so lay out a formal work plan for the process. Make a plan. but frustrated with how decisions get made. and taking others out of the loop. It might also be the wrong time for RAPID if the organization is in flux. this phase of decision-making can be interminable and explosive. You’ll get support to relieve the pain. RAPID-guided decisions that result in big changes will need managing. based on the experiences of organizations that have worked with the tool. or even just a waste of time. RAPID in this context will only make things worse. but also understand how things work. Carve off a few key decisions to start. And even those who see that there are some problems in the decision-making process. and anticipate anxiety. or dissonance around values. It means making power explicit. however difficult decision-making may be. Since doing this goes to the core of how you work. it will be important to invite key points of view as you create the plan. Implementation of this tool is worth getting right. may see the process as scary and threatening. Share your view that the current team can make decisions more effectively and efficiently. Act like an “R. Lay out the process and tell people where they will or will not be involved. Those who feel that decision-making is fine will not see why RAPID is relevant. not least because people can feel excluded or alienated if they are . If you can fix the critical decisions. Getting the most out of RAPID What follows are some guidelines for getting the most out of RAPID. If this concern isn’t shared. Picking a handful of decisions that are causing the most pain can be a great way to start. then everyone will know that you can fix others too. It might mean empowering some people. or the process will stall. which at best makes people nervous. or even lack of alignment on the mission. But if the real problem is the organization’s leadership. introducing RAPID can generate more heat than light.

it will become more useful to help delegate authority and accountability. it is hard to put things back under wraps again. though. Keep in mind. then your team will want to use it again. It does not tell you how to communicate those decisions once they are made or which team members should be responsible for that communication. Understand that RAPID is not a communication tool. Much of its value comes from taking the wraps off how decisions are made. that once RAPID is in use. Others can be vulnerable because their power is exposed. . Once RAPID is being used. Others go on to take the ideas behind RAPID and build on them to create their own unique decision-making processes. end up using it only to diagnose the problematic issues in their decision-making processes. If your first foray with RAPID is a success. Does the new way of making key decisions make sense? Do responsibilities and accountabilities match roles? Does the work balance fairly? Do you have buy-in from the key leaders? How does it feel? Are you looking forward to 8:30 tomorrow morning? Greater value over time One of the things we like about RAPID is that it can be useful even when it is not used in its entirety. Take the time to get some distance and see if it all fits together. As the organization grows and becomes more complex. Some leaders.no longer going to be involved in decisions in the way they had thought they were. It is a simple way to diagnose and prescribe how to make decisions. the genie is out of the bottle. after introducing the tool. Once all is clear. step back and review the whole.