ABCD and RACI: Cracking the the Code of Decision Making

Decisions, decisions, decisions–those moments of direction setting, clarification, priority naming, and resource allocating, that all organizations face at various moments in time.

Making decisions is essential to productivity and efficiency, but how decisions are made can be as important as the decision itself. Some leaders take for granted that the decision making authority and responsibility lie solely with them. This assumption can cause log-jams (as all work slows until a decision gets to the leader’s desk), but it can also be overwhelming for a single leader to take on. From a capacity-building perspective, decision making is a ripe opportunity for growing and trusting others to make decisions. In terms of fostering greater equity, having clear and inclusive processes around decision making ensures that multiple perspectives are engaged and considered outside of a sole leader.

The following two acronyms can help spell out a clearer process and approach to decision making that promotes clarity and equity as well as efficiency: ABCD and RACI.

ABCD Model. I’ve seen this model used in non-profits, large commercial businesses and in the world of education. This approach to decision making helps name how a singular decision will be reached. Each letter explains how/if input is gathered and who is the decision maker.

A Decisions=A leader will make a decision on his/her own without input

B Decisions=A leader will get input and reactions from a group or team, and then the leader will make the decision.

C Decisions=A group will discuss the issue together and either reach consensus or vote on the decision. The leader participants in the process, but has one vote like everyone else in the group.

D Decisions=A group (designated by the leader) makes a decision and passes the final decision along to others (including the leader).

Using this approach clarifies who is the final decision maker and helps others understand how input or their vote factor into the final decision. Leaders can use this model to explicitly name which approach they are using, but can also use the acronym to audit how their decisions are usually made. If they usually make A or B decisions, how does that build capacity (and show trust) in others’ ability to make decisions? In terms of equity, using B,C, or D approaches encourages multiple perspectives to be shared, which can result in a more informed decision.

RACI Model. I was introduced to this model in the past couple of years and it has been helpful in thinking about roles within a decision making process or a project. Although the acronym has proven helpful, I’ve added my own twist to the “C” which has strengthen the process with groups.

R=Responsible. This is the person who is responsible for making the work happen and will be moving the work forward. S/he receives input from others, but must integrate, synthesize and drive it towards the outcome. This individual is also responsible for coordinating the consultations from the C’s (see the timeline note below) and to inform the I’s at strategic moments in the process.

A=Accountable. This person is accountable for the outcome of the work. Although this individual isn’t driving the work, s/he is a decision maker if clarity is needed before the “R” can move on. This individual will ultimately sign off on the outcome.

C=Consulted. C’s are consulted during the process because the decisions made will impact their workflows, and/or they hold perspective that may help shape the work. They are often consulted when the “R” needs to gather initial input, or needs to receive feedback before moving forward. *Note: my addition to this role is to have the R’s name the specific timeline and ask of their consultation. Once this group gives their consultation at a given step in the process, it is the R’s responsibility to incorporate and synthesize and move the process forward. Remember, it is A’s, not C’s that hold the final sign off.

I=Informed. These people are informed during and after the process. They are not giving input or consulting, but need to be aware of what the process is yielding and what the outcome holds.

Using RACI can be helpful if there is a decision to be made or process to undertake that has the potential to have a lot of cooks in the kitchen. By taking the time to name roles and clarify process steps, the different groups can gain greater clarity around the process and who is leading the work. This process also can support capacity building, by allowing individuals to have the opportunity to be R’s and lead the process, while still providing them the guidance of the A’s when needed. In terms of equity, as leaders name the R’s, consider who the right C’s may be to provide helpful feedback, diverse perspectives and unique approaches to support the R’s work.

Whether using ABCD or RACI, decision making is both an opportunity to share leadership, as well as an opportunity to articulate an efficient and transparent process. This can lead to greater clarity and more informed decisions.