Author Susan Scott used a tree metaphor to describe a process for delegating decision making in her book Fierce Conversations (2004). Scott suggests that like trees where changes at the leaf, tree, trunk or root level have a greater or lessor impact on the health of the tree, business decision-makers need to understand the affects of certain types of decisions on the wellbeing of the organisation. Scott’s ‘Decision Tree’ is a great model for thinking about how disruptive the change will be and what authority your change champion needs.
The least intrusive changes are initiatives involving leaf decisions. These are decisions with low impact, and that only affect the person who made the decision. In most organisations, people are generally expected to make leaf decisions and act on them without needing to tell anyone about it. Typical leaf-level changes might include creating a new folder structure in your personal filing cabinet or computer.
A communication strategy really smooths the process for changes involving branch decisions. These are decisions that have some impact on other people and the change needs to be communicated. Generally people making branch decisions need specific authority to make the decision. The authority might be documented in your role statement or might be expressly given as a direction from your manager. Regular reporting of actions from branch decisions is needed so the impact of the decision can be monitored. Examples of branch decisions might include changing the location of files (hard copy or electronic), changing preferred suppliers for low-risk items.
When change is impacting an organisation at the level of trunk decisions, it’s a good idea to really plan how the change will be managed, possibly even recruit a change manager. Trunk decisions often affect both internal and external stakeholders, and have the potential to cause damage to the organisation and as such it is important that they reviewed before being acted on. People making these types of decisions should report the decision to a higher authority in the organisation for approval. Trunk decisions will often impact more than one team, and include things like new/upgraded tools (software programs, equipment), changes to standard operating procedures, minor changes to product/service offerings.
Root decisions could devastate the organisation and should be made with contributions from many people. Decisions of this nature will likely impact the whole organisation and significant investment will be made in communicating and managing the decision and its execution. Root decisions include things like new industrial agreements, organisational restructures, changing legal entity status (eg membership organisation to non-profit company limited by guarantee), high-value/high-risk investments, major changes to product/service offerings (changing the technical core).