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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

When You Should Make an Executive Decision (and When You Really Shouldn't)

Your boss is on vacation and something comes up at the office—an executive decision needs to be made. Do you step in?

It’s a situation that plenty of employees will face at some point in their careers. I know almost everyone on my team has had to deal with it before. Depending on the company you work for, its culture, your role, and a variety of other factors, some employees may encounter this scenario more often than others.

When it happens, how do you decide whether you have the right to make that executive decision or not? Here are a few things to consider.

1. What Is the Company Culture Like?

At some businesses, innovation, ideas, and self-starters are prized, and at others, traditional layers of management are the norm. If you work for a company at which the boss tends to takes a laissez-faire approach, you can feel a more confident in making high-level decisions, even if you’re not the “boss.”

Consider my company for example: For a long time, ShortStack operated on a flat management system, so I relied on almost every employee to be his or her own boss. My public relations manager often wrote and distributed press releases without approval. This process worked for us, because she knew what I wanted to convey to the media, and I trusted her to do her job without needing to be micromanaged.

However, if you’ve never been given the freedom to make important decisions without input from your manager or executives, you’ll have to tread lightly. For example, if you’re a graphic designer and you don’t like the colors of your company’s web page, you should probably ask a few higher-ups before unveiling a new palette. If it’s a smaller issue—like you notice a small typo on the site—you have a much better chance of being able to fix it without getting reprimanded.

2. Do You Know All of the Details?

The best way to determine whether you should make an executive decision or not is to think like an executive.

As a CEO, my thought process for nearly every decision begins with the same few questions: “Do our customers need this? Will it make them happy? Will it help the business grow?” And perhaps most importantly, “Do I have all the information necessary to make this decision?”

I recently had an employee make what she thought was a great decision—to switch the company’s phone contract to a new provider. On the face of it, it looked like it was going to save the company a ton of money. What she didn’t know was that we were two months away from the end of the contract with our current provider and were going to get a credit that would have gotten us a free year of phone services.

Bottom line: You have to make sure you know all the details—otherwise, your do-gooding could blow up in your face. Taking a moment to ask yourself the questions that your boss would ask can give you some insight about whether you should be making a particular decision.

This will also help you remove your ego from the equation—because you should never make a decision just to win; decisions should be made based on data and company goals.

3. Have You Talked Through Your Idea With Anyone Else?

Before you make an executive decision, it’s wise to consult with other people in the company, even if they aren’t executives, either.

This is especially valuable if you’re at a company that’s a little more strict about the decision-making process. When multiple team members rally for a cause, it’s more convincing than when one person makes a decision single-handedly.

Consulting with another team member can also provide a different view on the situation. Let’s go back to the web page colors: You may think they need to be changed, but by conversing with another designer, you may learn more about why the current colors were selected. There could be a strategy in place that you didn’t know about until you communicated with that other team member.

Above all else, the best thing you can do to prepare for these decision-making situations is to speak with your executives and learn your boundaries. Determine when it’s acceptable for you to make decisions and when it’s not.

But in the meantime, if you’re faced with a decision to be made, ask yourself these three questions, and you’ll be on your way to making the best decision possible.

Photo of banging gavel courtesy of Shutterstock