Agile Management And Decentralized Decisions – Isn’t It Ironic?

Decentralized Decision-Making An Ancient Constraint

As I was gathering inspiration for a previous blog post, Kick Market Delay to the Curb, I read an old Harvard Business Review article about decentralized decision-making where the authors mention Moses. Yes, the Moses of the burning bush on the mount. The reference is when Jethro requested that Moses distribute responsibility. The writers note the correct period – 400 B.C.

I thought that I went back in time to validate my concepts! The article was spot on about the psychological conflict around decentralization being an ancient issue that remains ongoing today, for people doing important things and American business too.

Let’s go back a short period of time to reflect on this tricky subject and then talk about how to accelerate digital transformation using decentralized decision-making:

Alanis Morrisette is on top of the charts in the diverse ’90s with the song Ironic; Microsoft has Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry of the iconic Friends sitcom teaching us how to use Windows 95, and we all sat on the edge of our seats watching a movie where everyone knew the ending. While Rose and Jack hung onto the bow of the world’s largest luxury liner in the middle of a frozen ocean on the big screen, U.S. President Bill Clinton saw his highest ever ratings mid-scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

Isn’t That Ironic?

Alanis Morissette, using decentralized decision-making, 1996
Alanis Morissette, using decentralized decision-making, 1996

Shockingly, the Clinton ratings weren’t caused by the administration’s balanced Federal budget. The first balanced budget with a surplus in 30 years! This unrepeated phenomenon was driven by higher tax rates on the wealthy and increased income due to tech-created opportunities that resulted in more Federal tax deposits from individuals and corporations. The new opportunities being created by technology were the beginning of digital. So, why didn’t we openly talk about how we could progress or shift culture as a society, given our new impending digital future?

decentralized decision-making is still imperceptible: 400 B.C. to 1990’s to date

Decisions in the past were driven by status. High-level positions were typically filled by people who were never taught to let go of control – because that used to fly in the face of accountability – they were in charge at this time. The intention behind decisions took a long time to trickle down because life and business moved much slower in the 90s. Topics of public discussion were carefully chosen, and messaging was limited; the brick-and-mortar library or bookstore was still the place most went for their information.

Therefore, the delay to market didn’t put as much at stake as it does today.

People wore suits to work in the 90s, and leadership had to read the Wall Street Journal on delivery day (the paper version) and the Financial Times to know what was going on in business and the world. I loved that pink newspaper. Who chose that paper color anyway? My intuition says marketing.

My mind goes to the pink international financial publication because I still wonder today, is it only the marketing org that we offer carte blanche around creative business thinking?

And is this contradictory role, filled with non-censorship, the paradox that leaders might explore for coming to terms with the unfamiliar decentralized decision-making process to get to accelerated digital transformation and innovation?

At mobileLACE, we explored the benefits of being open-minded to understand the impact decentralized decision-making would have during transformation! Our experiential findings helped us understand how the real distribution of responsibility can be mutually beneficial when leading and motivating a large environment to compete in the 21st century – if applied within an accepted creative structure. 

Ironically, it is marketing that we can look to for learning about how this works because currently, they still distribute the most responsibility to us – all of us, all the time.

Digital Media Marketing Influences Culture

Think about one marketing attempt at distributed responsibility: Initiating new paradoxes during Super Bowl commercials.

Some of these ideas quietly progress throughout the year, post commercial, as we all catch up in understanding the personal choices presented in January or February during “the game.” Or, maybe we are left out of the cultural shift entirely because it occurs unseen – due to the individual buy-in behind the scene, from that big day forward.

For instance, let’s try to understand both Superbowl commercials: Oatly’s Wow No Cow “Swedish dairy lobby commercial”, and Alexa’s personification into a fantasized version of Michael B. Jordan. Should we be done with cows? And, are intelligent, savvy women visualizing Alexa as a man with a great body – even if he is not “her” man and is actually the voice of a woman shrouded in plastic? I don’t think so.

Your thoughts are welcome at this email:, subject line “The Super Bowl’s Cultural Influence.”

Marketers decide the food flavors that entice us during our favorite shows. They present the beer or organic seltzer we “should” serve during the World Cup, Tour De France, or The Masters by appealing to our senses with puppies, Clydesdales, and even frogs.

Setting up the Puppy Bowl. 4 February 2017 Decentralized Decision-making
Setting up the Puppy Bowl. 4 February 2017

Marketing also decides what people they’ll place into our living rooms – or on any screen we use, to provoke us into action, to buy or adopt something new. Some viewers have been seen watching the display with heads tilted, muttering a stark, “What!?” What was it they were actually selling?  

It is no happenstance that we are often presented with the opposite of what we know or expect from marketing: This approach gets us to, at the least, think about changing product, brand, or behavior. In the end, paradoxically, they have subtly delegated or driven – but not truly distributed – a responsibility over to the viewer to either stop or support their high-priced, wide-screen efforts to influence an entire viewing culture.

From my season ticket seats, it looks like this approach works!

If paradox works for marketers by being subtle and subversive – imagine if corporate and institutional leaders agreed to explore seemingly contradictory processes and ideas with a decentralized creative synthesis that led them into a new digital business model that helped strategy exponentially. Doesn’t distributing the responsibility of understanding and being part of a final collaborative vision or strategy over to trusted contributors and supporters seem more efficient than getting people or processes to morph into square pegs that have to be forced into round holes due to missing or old habitual solutions?

Letting go of control is often not familiar to people who lead, and when you’re high on the food chain, you definitely have a lot more to lose. In addition, not everyone executes with the intention that a leader needs. Compounding that issue, this may not always be visible.

Decentralized decision-making in corporate and government has never been an explored paradox, not in the ’90s and not now! We need to test this concept in business immediately. We can all agree that it’s prudent to enable changes in large entities that are managed by people exposed to a shift already underway in national and global cultures.

mobileLACE understands the mental model that drives this leadership conundrum. After years of seeing hesitation around distributing responsibility during agile transformations, we structured a governance format. We have integrated a process into our platform that serves as a solution for letting creativity evolve organically – with visible accountability.

Benefits And Challenges of Decentralized Making:

  1. Don’t judge the ability of people to move digital forward by their gender, status, looks, education, who they know, hang out with or have married. Instead, decide if you think they can make good decisions that will enable good things to happen for your products, services, or the entire enterprise culture. Allow them to do so and metric cultural intelligence.
  • Culture has already changed people too much for you not to see who a person really is because you never had the opportunity to hear what they were really thinking! This concept, ironically, cannot be delegated. Hearing what people say – without judgment or bias – means you exhibit eloquent listening. When mastered, this concept is a significant motivator a leader can use to effectively influence positive cultural change in their large entities, organically.
  • Our Digital 101 for Executives Conference presents several concepts to ensure this mastery. One process shows you how to check your own bias, privately, and the other shows how to intrinsically motivate a diverse workforce.
  1. Give people a value-add process for idea contribution – not the old anonymous portal or suggestion box as it provides no OKR value. mobileLACE has another option. If people do not have the credentials you’ve been used to relying upon, ask yourself, does what they’re proposing make sense for our company despite who they seem to be? 
  • Who would have thought the bad-boy orphan and janitor with no university degree from the movie Good Will Hunting could solve the math equation that all the Ph.D. professors could not? That movie was based on a true story about a kid from Southie named William Sidis.
  1. Test a person’s concepts. Poll the audience informally, phone a friend, but do not dismiss people because there is no validated authority to be found on their profile.
  • Danger is taking what another is saying to heart because there is an illusion of power in their life – this is especially true in our current social media, meta-verse, and sound-bite world. I’ve known people like Bernie Ebbers, the past CEO of MCI/Worldcom, convicted of fraud (Case Study), and appointed leaders driving digital transformations that had very dysfunctional approaches to strategy.
  • Many leaders have broken feedback loops; they often don’t know about communication breakdowns from people they might not fathom would ever fail them. I’ve met brilliant minds who connect complicated, high-level concepts yet struggle to balance their checkbook. In fact, I married one; ironically, he was very good at marketing – political marketing.

The face of intelligence and knowledge has changed in the 21st century – anything goes as far as personal style today. There are good, creative people embracing the soulful, authentic way of living who want to be enterprise and institutional contributors that add value. While others are using this new cultural norm to hide their identity.

That is why discernment is essential to leadership success and will help to enable a mindful digital roadmap.

Discernment makes The decentralization of distributed responsibility tricky…

Discernment is tedious. This is why mobileLACE built in checks-and-balances throughout their service plan, boot camp, and products to support needed change.  (Click Here to Schedule an Appointment to Discuss)

If leaders do not embrace fearless people who will do the right thing, or listen to people who dare to make decisions that meet changing customer behavior, versus engaging with those who might be telling leadership what they want to hear, then leaders must accept the accompanying potential of disruption risk.

The C-level needs creatives around them to assist with the most important thing they do to mitigate disruption: ensure enterprise longevity on the S&P remains strong by instituting digital relevance that keeps them competitive.

Dismissing a good concept due to old bias creates constraint build-up. This mindset does not accelerate your agile transformation for digital but instead blocks innovation. Centralization de-emphasizes the ability to capitalize on potential business intelligence that is hard to see but exists in many corners of your business org and institutional agencies.

you need non-censored thinkers to reduce your heavy cognitive load as a leader inside a significant entity with monolithic systems and fully formed linear policies that require annual planning and judge investment with old, mandated financial processes that look backward.

The creative approach is no longer reserved for those in marketing; it is a requisite for preparing your large entity or institution to build and distribute products and services that can deliver digital customer satisfaction with grace, speed, and quality.

Ironically, this systemic shift – executed and supported correctly, may be the best way for large entities to achieve new ROI in the competitive and disruptive digital marketplace.

Start your journey with mobileLACE today!

FYI: mobileLACE encourages you to try the few pre-requisites in this article as a personal exploration before creating your synthesized decentralization strategy. Take our Digital 101 for Executives Conference with your team, and you can start the ball rolling immediately!


* indicates required

Robin Gregory

CEO mobileLACE

Lean Agile Enterprise Coach, Business Enterprise Analyst, Digital Transformation Specialist, Writer. 25 years of business and technology experience.

mobileLACE is a team of intelligent advocates with a passion for sharing experiential knowledge about digital transformation. Our intention is to assist leaders in the 21st century marketplace by blending cultural intelligence with technological agility into our products and services.