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Managing Your Business like a Democracy? Here’s Why You’ll Fail

When it comes to business, not all opinions have equal weight and not everyone should be asked for their opinion. It's a business, not a democracy, so you better own it.

Imagine this: you are anxiously laying on the surgery table — sweaty palms, labored breathing, and only a thin shred of gown separating your naked body from the clinical steel operating table.

The brain surgeon leans over and reassures you that you have made the right choice, that this will be over before you know it, and there is nothing to fear here.

Business is not a democracy.

Then, just as the anesthetist is placing the mask over your face, you hear the surgeon say, “Nurse, where do you think we should make the first incision?”

The nurse, wearing a grave forced smile, responds with, “We should slice in just above the right eye”.

The surgeon says, “Lab technician, your thoughts?”

Eager to impress, the lab technician jumps and shouts, imploring the surgeon to cut in from behind the head.

The surgeon then yells out to the janitor in the hall just outside: “Janitor, where do you think we should start?” The janitor just shrugs his shoulders and continues mopping the hallway.

At this point you are fighting the anesthesia, your pulse is racing, and your cold sweat has turned hot. As the surgeon starts taking a vote, you summon your last reserves of free will, rip the IV drips out, and bolt for the exit.

The point of this story is that like a finely tuned operating theater, your business is not a democracy. Not all opinions have equal weight, and not everyone should be asked for their opinion.

I’ve seen businesses created by friends and our customers fail to reach their potential because the founders or senior management feel they need to make every decision as a quorum.

Suddenly you have people with not a single marketing bone in their body voting on a logo. Then there’s a vote on what shift hours support people need to work so as to seem “fair”. Worse still, you suddenly realize you’ve wasted an hour debating what color the “buy now” button should be on your web site. You’re never getting that hour back — it’s gone.

I’m guilty of this, too.

In the first iteration of WORK[etc], I had wanted to include a “powered by WORK[etc]” logo on the emails and web forms our free customers built with our product. I had hoped to get some free exposure and maybe ride on a viral tidal wave.

Myself and my marketing intern were all for it, but the development team were against it. The developers thought it was just “not cool”.

Now because I had opened up the decision for discussion, everyone involved suddenly felt they had a vested interest. Junior-me didn’t have the confidence to make a decision against the wishes of the majority.

While my idea may not have been “cool”, making a decision that was not in the best interests of the business but in the best interests of democracy probably ended up costing us thousands in potential customers and exposure. My fail here was to take advice from unqualified people and then put an important decision to a pseudo-vote.

Business is not a democracy, but neither is it a dictatorship. It should be like a finely-tuned operating theater — information from the most knowledgeable people is fed up the line to the surgeon and clear, decisive actions are sent back down.

When your business runs like a democracy, decisions will fail to get made. Even worse, meek decisions are made and you set off on a course into the beige sunset of mediocrity. The simplest of decisions consume valuable time and end up becoming a major chore for everyone involved.

Business is not a democracy, but neither is it a dictatorship. It should be like a finely-tuned operating theater — information from the most knowledgeable people is fed up the line to the surgeon and clear, decisive actions are sent back down.

Put simply, internalize only those opinions from people qualified to provide a knowledgeable opinion. Discuss options only with those people knowledgeable in the topic. Never put decisions to a vote.

It is your business and your team. Make sure you own it.

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