This 'Making decisions on the Waterline' practice is inspired by Gore Tex. They have a guiding principle called the Waterline. Everyone at Gore consults with other knowledgeable Associates before taking actions that might be "below the waterline,” causing serious damage to the enterprise.
At Amazon, Founder Jeff Bezos introduced the principle of ‘reversibility’. If a decision is reversible, we can make it fast and without perfect information. If a decision is irreversible, we better slow down the decision-making process to ensure that we consider ample information and understand the problem as thoroughly as we can.
What steps to take for the practice
Step 1: Inspired by the practices of these inspiring companies. Make very clear what the line is between sinking and keep the boat afloat. Or when it’s reversible or not. For example costs (internal and external) are not reversible, however, you can try to give accountability for a budget. And in line with the procurement policy, you can add a check that investments over 2500 EUR need to be approved by the finance task force and manager.
Step 2: When this line is very clear. It’s time to work on what decision method to use in what situation. Because reversible decisions don’t need to be made the same way as irreversible decisions.
Step 3: Evaluate the waterline, because with more experience comes more insight. And even more autonomy through accountability. Try to lower the waterline as much as possible. Challenge leaders in your organization to give more responsibility and accountability to the employees.
Decisions ‘above the waterline’ can be made much faster
It’s very clear where the line of autonomy lies when it comes to making decisions
Understanding that some decisions cannot be made by everyone
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