There’s a huge distinction between consensus decisions and intelligent decisions, and usually the two are negatively correlated. When we study where the best decisions come from and how the best decisions were made as companies made their shifts from good to great, we were struck by the absence of consensus decisions.
What you had were environments characterized by immense debate. And I mean genuine debate: yelling, screaming, pounding tables, veins bulging out, throwing things across the room.
“Tell me, where’s your data?”
“Let’s put our eyeballs to eyeballs.”
“Let’s discuss this.”
“Where is your evidence?”
“Tell me what this means.”
“I draw a different conclusion.”
That very vigorous, violent, engaged dialogue, discussion, and debate—that was clearly there. So, these were not decisions that were made in a kind of martinet-style, dictatorial, I’m-just-going-to-go-make-the-decision manner. They were very, very rooted in dialogue, debate, discussion, data, brutal facts—the whole bit.
But not one major decision—not one major decision as the companies went from good to great—was made at a point of consensus. Every one of those major decisions was made by an executive while there was still substantial disagreement in the air. Your job, your responsibility as an executive, is to reach a point of understanding where you are right and then to make the decision that is right. That usually happens before there is agreement.
If you wait till the point of agreement—I’m reminded of that story of Alfred Sloan, sitting around with his executives. At one point, he says, “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in agreement on this decision.” Everybody nodded their heads in agreement. Then Mr. Sloan said, “Then I suggest that we postpone this decision until we generate some genuine disagreement so that we might know what the decision is all about.”