Uber CEO is asking leaders to apply an approach developed by Bain & Company

22 August 2018 Consulting.us 4 min. read

A 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review by two Bain Partners – Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko – is getting some renewed attention after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi referenced the piece in a memo earlier this summer. The organizational performance improvement article recommends making sure people know their roles – including who the decision-maker is.

According to a report from Business Insider, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is telling employees at the firm to be sure they know who ‘has the D.’ In a memo circulated around the company, Khosrowshahi wrote: “You may hear me say in meetings ‘[insert name] has the D here.’ This is about being clear on who is the decision maker; I’d encourage you to do the same.”

The phrase and thought process behind it comes from a Bain & Company report on organizational effectiveness published in the Harvard Business Review in 2006. Presumably the authors, Bain Partners Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko – and now Uber’s CEO – weren’t snickering when they started recommending people say they ‘have the D’ (or decision-making authority) to prevent indecision and business process bottlenecks.

To millennials, ‘the D’ is slang for ‘dick,’ while ‘getting the D’ is slang for sex. Cue the muffled giggles from younger workers at some meeting when some dynamic manager asks, “Alright, who has the D here?”

To be fair, you can’t expect high-powered consultants and leading business execs to be tuned into youth culture and its rapidly evolving array of slang; they presumably have better things to do. Expect some new report on organizational performance improvement to get laughed at by pesky Gen Z-ers for recommending managers proclaim they have the ‘eggplant emoji.’

Uber CEO is asking leaders to apply an approach developed by Bain & Company

‘Phrasing’ aside, the 2006 Bain report’s ideas have clearly had staying power, as seen by the Uber CEO’s adoption of them. Basically, the report’s suggestion is that companies speed up effective decision-making and prevent slowness by making sure that roles are delineated and there is no ambiguity about accountability. Firms looking to do so can use Bain’s RAPID (recommend, agree, perform, input, decide) method to develop clear decision-making rules.

First a firm recommends a proposal/alternatives, pushing certain responsibilities to business units where knowledge of relevant issues is greatest. Then, parties have to agree to the recommendation, with some people (e.g. executives) retaining veto power. However, those that veto have to provide an alternative or ‘escalate the issue’ to the person with the ‘D’ or decision-making authority. Bain recommends that few have veto power, like legal counsel, or the heads of affected units.

Then, those with input responsibilities provide evaluating facts to the recommenders, who have no obligation to act on the advice, but can take it into account if they want. Consensus, though a worthy goal, could impede action or be ‘a recipe for lowest-common-denominator compromise,’ according to the authors.

Then, the process moves to the person with the ‘D’ – the person who decides, holds accountability, and makes the organization take action on the recommendation. According to Rogers and Blenko, “He or she needs good business judgment, a grasp of the trade-offs, and an awareness of the group that will execute the decision.”

Then, the process moves on to the people who perform, executing the decision. This is still a very important role, since a good decision that is implemented poorly isn’t worth a whole lot.

In the end, the RAPID method wants to get things done quickly and effectively by clearly delineating roles, letting people know what they have to do and who has the power to decide. So the next time a manager at Uber says ‘I have the D here,’ millennials should suppress their guffaws and get on board with the lingo of operational performance effectiveness. Or RAPID practitioners can just say have the ‘crown’ or something else that signifies decision-making power.