Switching To Decision-Enabling From Decision-Making

(Ed Note: This article first appeared in Forbes, for whom George is a regular contributor. He is also an alumnus of Coca Cola where he formed a deep respect for CEO Neville Isdell and his leadership ability. George looks back on those qualities here)

If decisions have to go through you, you’re the choke point at the bottom of the funnel, controlling the flow. 

Conversely, if you provide clear direction, resources, bounded authority, and accountability, enabling others to make decisions, you turn the funnel into a megaphone, amplifying your influence and impact. It’s one of the fundamental differences between early-stage entrepreneurs and successful leaders of larger, more complex enterprises.

Coca-Cola’s Neville Isdell was a decision-enabler. As described in The Keys To Level Four Delegation, Neville led by giving people:

  1. Direction as to the desired objectives and results so everyone understood his intent.
  2. Resources – The human, financial, technical, and operational resources they needed to succeed.
  3. Bounded Authority to make tactical decisions within the strategic boundaries and guidelines all had agreed to.
  4. Accountability – Standards of performance, time expectations, positive and negative consequences of success and failure for those held to account.

It’s counter-intuitive, but clear direction, boundaries and guidelines free people up to act. Knowing what you can’t do lets you spend more time thinking about what you can do.

Coca-Cola’s people knew they couldn’t mess with the core pillars of Coca-Cola. No-one tried to change the secret formula. (Except once with New Coke. But that’s a different story.) Global package changes were big deals. But people had tremendous flexibility with local advertising, promotions, and execution, enabling the tactical capacity to adjust quickly and decisively.

Isdell deliberately spent more time enabling others’ decisions than in making decisions himself.

Steps You Can Take


Start by aligning people, plans, and practices around a shared purpose. Your shared purpose is a combination of your mission (why,) vision (what,) and values and guiding principles (how.) One of the most important guiding principles goes to the core nature of the enterprise: design, produce, deliver, or service.

Core Framework

Your overarching strategy and strategic priorities flow from this, directing each group within the organization to:

  • win by being predominant, superior, or strong,
  • not lose by being above average, or good enough/scaled, or
  • not do or out-source.

This gives them a clear picture of their desired objectives, results, and interdependencies with other groups so everyone understands your intent.


Strategic and priority choices are theoretically elegant and practically useless until they have resources behind them. Make human, financial, technical and operational resource choices in line with each group’s priority:

  • Predominance requires top 1% resources to be the ones shaping the future.
  • Superiority requires top 10% resources to be better than anyone else.
  • Strong requires top 25% resources to be better than most.
  • Above Average requires competitive resources to be generally competitive.
  • Good Enough/Scaled is where you save money to fund higher-priority areas, looking only for the minimally viable approach and ways to scale efficiently.
  • Not Do or Outsourced may or may not save you cash immediately, but it keeps these areas from distracting leadership.

Bounded Authority

This was where Isdell excelled. When his people made tactical decisions within the agreed strategic boundaries, he was always supportive. They knew they had the authority to make those decisions. Anytime anyone needed to re-look at a strategic boundary, they knew they had to engage with Isdell – who was always open to people influencing decisions he had the authority to make.

Accountability and Consequences

Pick your cliché. “If it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done.” “You get what you inspect.” You’ve probably got your own favorite. The point is you have to measure, track, and assess results so you can adjust.

Set clear standards of performance, time expectations with milestones along the way, and positive and negative consequences of success and failure for the people being called to account. And then follow through.

Planning Process

  1. Confirm the shared purpose: mission, vision, values and guiding principles including the nature of the enterprise.
  2. Make clear strategic and priority choices in line with that.
  3. Deploy resources in line with those strategic priority choices.
  4. Clarify the tactical decisions leaders can make on their own and which they need others to endorse.
  5. Require those leaders to share and implement rigorous plans to deliver their priorities so all know what’s getting done by when, by whom, with what resources and what interdependencies.
  6. In general, track, assess, and modify your overall strategic, organizational and operational processes annually, overall business results quarterly, programs monthly, projects weekly, tasks daily or more frequently in a crisis.
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