Sunday, July 30, 2006

Decision Papers

I’m surprised that decision papers are not commonly used in large organizations. They can reduce meetings and save a huge amount of staff time.

The classic decision paper is written by the department proposing a particular course of action and circulated to other departments that have an interest in the topic. The paper has a cover memo noting the topic and the list of individuals to whom the paper should be circulated. If an individual agrees with the proposals, the person can simply write “OK” next to his name and then pass the paper on to the next party on the list. If the person opposes the proposed decision, then the person can note that he disagrees and that his comments are attached at a tab.

Protocol dictates that once the paper has been fully circulated, it is returned to the author so that person has the chance to see any dissenting comments prior to taking the paper to the main decision maker. Some proposed decisions die at that stage if a dissenter has made a good point. If the paper moves on to the main decision maker, however, then that person has the advantage of reading an analysis of a proposed course of action that has been reviewed by all of the interested parties. The decision maker may choose to meet with some of the parties or may decide to accept or reject the proposed action.

Savvy operators learn to incorporate the concerns of the other parties into their recommendations. The decision paper process requires coordination – failing to include an obviously interested party on the coordination list is a major mistake – and the ability to write a persuasive recommendation. Far from being bureaucratic, decision papers streamline decisions. The papers can be circulating through the system as the parties are doing other things. One important requirement is that the papers must be logged in as they enter and leave each department so they can be tracked.

Large organizations that operate strictly through meetings should consider a decision paper system as an alternative. Odds are, they’ll like it.

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