Defensive Decision-Making: Why It Happens

Defensive decision-making or decision holding is when a manager (or any decision-maker) ranks one option above another as the best choice but then chooses the second-best option. This is because even though the second-best option may not be in the best interest of the business, it will protect the decision-maker against negative consequences.  

Unfortunately, this type of decision making holds businesses back as the choices are largely influenced by factors such as the fear of repercussion. This hinders growth as people choose safer, less lucrative options just in case the best option was to fail.

Who Is Really Making The Decisions?

Decisions happen throughout a business, on all levels. Team leaders, managers, CEOs and project managers all make decisions that impact the welfare of the business. Of course, some decisions will carry harsher consequences if the outcome is negative - such as those made at the executive level. 

There is an upside and downside to every decision. The upside is how it can benefit the organisation should the implementation work successfully. The downside is the possible negative repercussions it can have. 

When you weigh big decisions, the downside will often be greater than the upside. And the negative consequences could be detrimental to the organisation or the decision-maker’s job. So, it’s obvious why they would block or hold them and why 80% of managers have made at least one defensive decision. 

While defensive decision-making and decision holding is understandable, it doesn’t benefit the organisation. It limits growth as no one dares to challenge the status quo, seize an opportunity, or take a risk. As such, there’s no innovation or learning that can help take the business forward and enable it to achieve new things. 


How To Solve Defensive Decision-Making

Defensive decision-making all comes down to how the organisation views failure. Organisations that see the value in failure and don’t play the blame game can learn from their mistakes. Decision-makers aren’t afraid to innovate and take chances as failure would be a learning opportunity rather than something they would be blamed for. 

To solve defensive decision making and decision holding, organisations need to be more agile. They need to emphasise cross-team collaboration, versatility, and adaptability. This will help them adopt change more easily as it enables innovation and healthy discussions around decisions where everyone can give their input. 

Organisational agility also strengthens business strategies. If the organisation has plans in place for the potential failure of certain ventures, there is less chance that these failures will have severe consequences.

If these failures do occur, it’s important to have a positive outlook on failure rather than a negative one. The organisation can take the failure as a learning opportunity and adjust future strategies accordingly. This leads to better, smart decision-making in the long run.


Final Thoughts

Playing it safe isn’t always the way to go. Defensive decision-making and decision holding can hinder the success and growth of your business. While it’s easy to see why it happens, organisations need to encourage risk-taking when beneficial to the business and be open to failure. 

Effective cross-team collaboration and a company culture that avoids the blame game are key factors in solving defensive decision-making. By seeing the value in failure, organisations can ensure they continue to grow and innovate.


If your organisation is looking for a tool to involve all employees in idea generation for better decision-making on workplace and business strategies, have a look at the Falcony Platform. It enables your staff to participate in creating clarity on non-conformities, give feedback, ideas and input for the business, as well as preventing and decreasing the amount of friction in cross-team communications and gather actionable data in the process.


We are building the world's first operational involvement platform. Our mission is to make the process of finding, sharing, fixing and learning from issues and observations as easy as thinking about them and as rewarding as being remembered for them.‍

By doing this, we are making work more meaningful for all parties involved.

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