Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Four Level Decision Making

A while back when I was running one of the Rockefeller foundations I had a fairly large staff but had designed our team with a very flat organizational structure. When a company is organized in such a manner, successful delegation and quick decision making is a must.  To foster such an environment I developed a pretty straight-forward four level decision making protocol to quickly identify who should be making which kinds of decisions.

Level 1 = Delegation

This is the kind of decision that I do not need to be involved in at all. You do not need to tell me about it – just make the decision completely on your own and implement it right away. You own this decision.

Level 2 = Discussion

Talk to me, or someone else in the organization, to get input, information and suggestions, but make the decision completely on your own. You also own this decision.

Level 3 = Consensus

On a decision like this let’s get the team together and talk it through. Let’s get everybody’s ideas, expertise and input, then we will make the decision together as a management team. We all own this decision together and will do whatever the team agrees is the best course of action.

Level 4 = My Call

A level 4 decision is ultimately my choice as the leader.  I will get everyone’s input, ideas, suggestions and expertise. We will talk it through together. But at the end of the day I will make this decision for the entire organization and it will be completely my responsibility. I own this decision 100%.

I rarely had to make any level 4 decisions, and as we worked on this system together we were able to push more and more things down to level 1 or 2 – thereby freeing up a lot of my time and letting people play a much bigger role in how they ran their part of the business.

The way we implemented this was also simple.  I handed out a sheet that explained the levels, then every time someone came to me to make a decision for them, I would say: “That is a level one – you handle it” or “That is a level 2 – am I the best person to give you input on that topic?” and so forth, until people could pretty much figure out what sort of decisions fell into which category and they could just do what was appropriate.

Of course there are many other factors involved in effective delegation, such as; adequate training, transparency, empowerment, acceptable risk taking and such, but I found this system to be a nice way to help my team make better and faster decisions. Hope it helps you too!


  1. John,

    I think this system is great.

    It’s interesting to see how many decisions that seem tough to handle on the surface, but aren’t such a big deal once it is clear who is should make the decision.