We recently worked with a large multinational where there was a seven-stage process to get approval to acquire a laptop. This wasn’t to do with security, training or information assurance; this was just the process in place. This is what we call ‘over-confirmation‘ and we are seeing it more and more and it is costing companies an exorbitant amount. This is when relatively minor decisions are being held at a high level in organisations and/or require input from several stakeholders.
I could completely understand this degree of due diligence if we are talking about a strategic decision such as an acquisition or maybe in the HR realm on the removal of an individual; but on the purchase of an approved device vital to business? This just won’t wash in the days of the gig economy. Large firms need agility if they are to adapt, survive and thrive. Whilst senior leaders instinctively look at business direction or their people when it comes to getting a competitive advantage, sometimes it is the small, insignificant stuff that is creating drag for a firm.
Take the laptop example. We worked out that on average it took four working hours of administration across the firm for a laptop to be acquired. Based on the number of laptops acquired each year and the pay of those involved in the process, this equated to a whopping £250,000 each year attributable to over-confirmation in this single process alone. Dig deeper and similar processes across the firm were leading to millions being spent needlessly. Compare that to a small firm in the gig economy who makes a couple of clicks and a laptop arrives the next day. Over-confirmation reaches far beyond IT into accessing all sorts of resource from vehicles to training and beyond.
It is rarely senior leaders that create this drag. In large firms it is usually department heads or middle-managers who guard resources overzealously. Noble and maybe re-assuring on one level but detrimental to output on the other. Often senior leaders are unaware as it simply doesn’t effect them. Not directly in any case.
Of course there are very valid reasons around resource control that require a degree of overwatch in large firms that smaller organisations can dispense with, but this needs to be proportional. A good analogy is that of doors. You are likely to have a substantial front door to your house where you are protecting your safety and possessions, whilst you probably only have a small bolt and a thinner door for your bathroom where all you are protecting is your privacy and modesty. Avoiding over-confirmation is about choosing the appropriate door for each resource.
Combating over-confirmation involves senior leaders looking at the reasons why managers feel certain decisions need higher authority or pan-department approval. Is it trust in your people? Is it that they don’t understand the bigger picture of the firm’s finances? Is it that they lack the confidence to take any risk at all?
Usually over-confirmation is a symptom of sickness somewhere within an organisation. Maybe resources are far too scarce in a certain area and need re-balancing. Or perhaps management don’t feel that they can empower team members to make decisions in which case there is a leadership, communication or motivation issue that needs fixing.
Decision making should be kept at the lowest possible level to keep agility. This carries risk, but also the reward of a more engaged team and better and faster decisions at the technical level. You have to ask yourself in relation to stamping out over-confirmation whether the risk in delegating or streamlining decision-making is outweighed by the savings in time and a more engaged, less frustrated and more agile workforce? What is the worst that could happen and is this an acceptable risk?