What to Do at Work When No One Will Make a Decision

March 2, 2017

When no one will make a decision at your company, you can try the assert and respond technique.

Have you ever been in this situation at work: you have a pressing decision that needs to be made. You’ve shared it with your boss or your boss’s boss or your boss’s boss’s boss, and yet no direction has been given.

You are hungry for decisiveness, as you want to move forward. And yet, the heels drag, the emails remain unreturned and progress is halted.

What do you do?

In his LinkedIn Learning course Hiring and Developing Your Future Workforce, Gary Bolles said one bold strategy is called assert and respond. Assert and respond is far more collaborative than the classic “ask for forgiveness, instead of permission” technique, but still ensures progress happens.

What is assert and respond?

The concept of assert and respond is pretty simple. If leadership won’t make a decision or provide direction, you assert your own best recommendation and send it to leadership, suggesting a deadline. From there, they can respond to that decision.

What if they don’t respond to your recommendation by your suggested deadline? In the assert and respond model, that counts as approval, meaning you can move forward with your recommendation, Bolles said.

Afraid this might lead to anarchy? Bolles disagreed, saying the type of organization that believes in assert and respond isn’t lawless, but instead adaptive – a critical trait in the 21st century.

An example of assert and respond

In his course, Bolles told a story of a time he advised a client to use assert and respond, and how it went.

Bolles’ client managed a team within a bank, and wanted to define that team’s strategy. To make it effective, the client wanted his team’s strategy to ladder up to the strategic goals of the bank.

The problem: the bank had yet to set those strategic goals. How was Bolles’ client supposed to move forward without any direction?

Assert and respond. With no strategic goals in place, Bolles’ client made his own list of strategic goals for the organization and asked leadership to respond to them. That allowed him to incorporate their feedback and allowed the client to make meaningful goals for his own team.

A few months later, Bolles checked in again with his client. What did he find? His entire organization was now using a strategy alignment process – where none had existed before.

The bigger point behind assert and respond

There are two larger points behind assert and respond. The first is that organizations need to trust their people to make decisions, as that level of empowerment will maximize their effectiveness.

Secondly, today the world is changing faster than ever, and organizations need to keep pace. While assert and respond isn’t ideal – your leadership should be making decisions fast enough so it’s not necessary – it ensures your organization isn’t left behind.

In an ideal world, assert and respond should be something that’s almost never used in your organization. However, to get to that point, there’s a good chance you’ll go through a period where it is used, until leadership becomes more responsive.

Bolles’ LinkedIn Learning course covers how to build an organization that’ll thrive in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Check it out here.