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PBM 101: 4 most common misconceptions about decision rights

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PBM 101: 4 most common misconceptions about decision rights

In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools you can use to level up your work.

This article was previously published by Stand Together Foundation.

Principle Based Management™ provides a holistic approach to making decisions, solving problems, and creating value for individuals in your community, team members in your organization, and society at large. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools that you can use to reach the next level in your work.


In our introduction to the Decision Rights Dimension, we established that empowering team members to make decisions is a critical part of effective collaboration. We also explored the ways that Roles, Responsibilities, and Expectations (RR&Es) can support ongoing conversations to help clarify what each team member should be responsible for given the priorities of the organization and the unique strengths and motivations of everyone on the team. 

Of course, implementing decision rights for your team is hard, no matter how good your intentions. So, in this piece, we'll share the some misconceptions about the Decision Rights Dimension. Our hope is that by identifying common pitfalls, you'll be able to support an effective RR&E process that unlocks your organization's full potential.

Misconception #1: RR&Es should be connected to job titles.

Connecting responsibilities to job titles is an easy path to take. It simplifies job descriptions and streamlines hiring and promotions. But it also means you're missing out on the best that your team has to offer because they are often disconnected from the individualism of an employee. At Stand Together Foundation, we believe that responsibilities should align with the strengths of the individual and authorities should be earned based on proven performance and ability, not title or seniority, and what will create the most value for the team. Nonprofits that take the time to define decision rights at an individual level are better positioned to incentivize and motivate team members to do their best work while feeling personally fulfilled.

Misconception #2: Responsibility equals independence.

Just because someone has the authority to make a decision or the responsibility to recommend a decision doesn't mean they should do so without the input of others. In fact, sharing knowledge across the organization—and encouraging healthy debate—is part of making better decisions. Many decisions will impact numerous individuals across the organization, and it is generally a good idea to engage in discussions about certain decisions early and often. In other words, decision rights are intended to stimulate action, collaboration, and entrepreneurship, not block people out of the process.

Misconception #3: Decisions should always be decentralized.

Empowering individuals to make decisions based on their unique perspective is a great practice in general. But some decisions require a broad perspective to achieve the best results. For example, the regional leader of a national nonprofit might be the right person to make decisions about local advocacy. But that regional leader probably isn't the right person to decide advocacy priorities for the entire organization. Instead, the national organization has a global perspective to decide on priorities for the entire organization, and the regional leaders are best equipped to decide how those priorities uniquely translate to opportunities specific to their region.

Misconception #4: Decisions should always be centralized.

As your nonprofit scales, it's important to assign specific responsibilities and give certain authorities to different teams (as described above in misconception #3). However, you must be careful to ensure that this does not result in a control paradigm, where authority is concentrated with a small group of leaders and removed from anyone outside that group. The most successful nonprofits give responsibilities and authorities that will create the greatest impact by improving decision-making, fostering innovation, and avoiding bureaucracy.

Learn more about Principle Based Management and how it can help you transform your results.

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