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The consequences of non-decision

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Influence of people in a meeting

Most of us, we had physical science courses at school, and we learned that inertia is also a power. We can observe this phenomenon not only in physical science, but in other contexts, and such phenomenon has time to time negative consequences. I was reading an article few years ago in a magazine explaining that some negative events are the consequences of wrong decision, and can be avoid. For example, in the tragedy of the “Challenger” space shuttle, engineers were aware about the leakage problems with the boosters and the linked risks, but they decided to take off the shuttle. We know what happened after. If the consequences are known, why do we take the wrong decision?

Most of the time, we have to face a problem, we analyze it and elaborate solutions to solve it. But this problem has to be debated with other partners. In this group of partners, there are people who have more influence than others, who can influence the others. And some of the people will finally accept the decision of the majority

I would like to tell an example of such phenomenon of inertia and the negative consequences of it. A non-profit organization received a donation amounted to 750 thousand euros from somebody who had no heirs, which was a really appreciable amount for this small organization. At that time, the board of directors decided to take advice from a bank and invest that money in quoted shares. They decided also to hire permanent employees in order to develop some projects and to promote the organization. The plan was to cover the needs of the organization with the expected interests revenues and realized gains of the invested capital. But this plan totally failed with the fall of financial market in the year 2002.

At the general assembly I was attending, I received a sample of the annual accounts. I was surprised to see an important loss in the accounts, but what surprised me was that the amount of all the revenues did not cover the salaries costs, and apparently, the board of directors did not take any appropriate measures of action plan to avoid such situation.

My first thought was that this board of director was not competent to ensure the assigned responsibilities. Some of them said that it was the fault of the bank if they lost so much money. We can not agree with such comment, as it is the treasurer or the financial director who is responsible to manage the finance aspects and to take the appropriate decisions. So, my first thought was not so bad, but by discussing with each directors, each of them told me that it was not their own decision to invest the received money in such financial product. I found this attitude very strange, but it showed the temper of these people. If such decision is taken, it is because everybody agree, or because some people does not want to decide and take the same opinion than the others, and because they want to stay pleasant in the eyes of the others. It is also the problem of shared responsibilities. If a group of people have to decide something and by this way have a shared responsibilities, some people will always say that if something fails, it is the fault of the other. Can we consider that such board of directors is competent?

The consequences of this situation is that some employees received their letter of dismissal. And some directors said that it was really a social tragedy, as it was the consequence of the non-decision of other people and not of them.

The question is the following: when we need to have a group of people to take a decision, are each member of the group independent and competent, or are they chosen, because we know that some of them will have the same opinion than the majority? If it is not the case, like in the described example above, we can see what are the consequences of non-decision, and that inertia is a power,…a negative power.


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 17, 2010 at 23:39

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