As companies navigate a global business landscape that is more complex than ever, the skill of making effective, timely decisions should be considered non-negotiable for leadership.
Yet our new research shows that decision making is an overlooked factor in hiring strategies: a quarter of senior executives in our global survey say they were not asked about their decision-making capabilities at the interview stage. And just 36% say their decision-making style aligns with their organization’s.
In both Latin America (LATAM) and other international markets, senior executives whose decision-making styles align with their organizations are more likely to be happy in their role overall. People, rather than technology or processes, are also most likely to drive improvements in organizational decision making.
However, despite these similarities, our findings reveal some stark differences between LATAM and the rest of the world. For senior executives in LATAM, satisfaction with their organization’s decision-making processes is more than 10 percentage points higher than in other regions. They are also a lot more likely to have been asked about their own decision-making capabilities at the interview stage (87% compared with 75%).
Despite this, the majority (79%) have either resigned or considered resigning at some point in their careers because they were dissatisfied with the way their company made decisions, compared to 63% of senior executives from other international markets. And 39% of LATAM senior executives say they have actually resigned, compared to 34% of those from elsewhere. Additionally, only just over a third (37%) of LATAM senior executives’ decision-making style aligns with that of their organization’s.
We spoke to senior executives at C-suite, C-1 and C-2 levels from 13 industries and six countries across Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.
This is a comparative study of research carried out in May and June 2023, which surveyed senior executives at C-suite, C-1 and C-2 levels from 13 industries in Singapore, Spain, the UAE, the UK, and the US. We refer to this sample as "other international markets".
LATAM senior executives in our research reveal that, put together, the decision-making capabilities of some key individuals are the main driver of better decision making in organizations.
Senior executives were asked to reflect on the improvement in their organization’s decision making during their time at the company and consider what has played the biggest role in driving this
improvement. The most influential factors were company leadership and new employees. These were followed by their own personal, self-reported impact, and then by other existing employees.
These people-centric factors rank ahead of technology, processes, data-analysis tools, and economic factors – a trend also reflected in other international markets.
And when LATAM senior executives were asked to name the main factor in time-wastage in decision making at their organization, answers were most likely to relate to inexperienced decision-makers or poor leadership. This highlights that people can both positively and negatively impact decision making within an organization.
So, employing experienced decision makers at leadership level helps decisions to be made effectively with minimal time-wastage. And for LATAM senior executives, faster decisions are the top way to increase their satisfaction with their organization’s decision-making effectiveness.
Two-thirds of LATAM respondents are satisfied with how empowered they are to make decisions in their role. This compares with only 58% of respondents in other international markets.
Empowerment is clearly important to LATAM senior executives: 79% say they have resigned or considered resigning because they did not feel empowered to make good decisions. In other international markets, it’s only 63%.
LATAM senior executives might feel more empowered because they have more autonomy. Over half (58%) say they have decision-making authority and are accountable for the results within their own area of responsibility, compared with only 39% of senior executives in other international markets.
According to McKinsey research, empowerment comes from giving people a strong sense of ownership of and accountability for decisions while also providing space for them to fail safely.1 This suggests that empowerment and autonomy are intrinsically linked.
Senior executives in LATAM are more likely than others to feel empowered, have autonomy and authority, and have discussed decision making at the interview stage. Like in other regions, only a relatively small proportion feel aligned with their organization on decision making:
C-Suite are the most likely seniority level to think their company style align with their own - although less than half (43%) C-2 are the least likely to say this - only 32% say their style aligns
The empowerment, autonomy and authority that LATAM senior executives possess could indicate that they are allowed to make decisions their own way, separate from the decision-making style of the company overall. Equally, this lack of alignment could suggest that conversations about decision making in interviews are too superficial; executives are not aware of the organization’s style; and executives have been hired to introduce a different approach.
Interestingly, the LATAM senior executives who have the most decision-making authority within their area of responsibility—at a departmental level and an organizational level—are most likely to say their style of decision-making conflicts with their organization’s. Executives with more authority may be required to challenge the status quo with a different approach to decision making. Again, this could simply indicate that they are given the authority and autonomy to make decisions their own way, separate from the decision-making style of others.
The autonomy of LATAM’s senior executives could come down to a democratic decision-making style within organizations. Our research shows that LATAM organizations are more likely to have a democratic rather than a top-down decision-making style, whereas other international markets, including Spain, are more likely to say that they have a top-down style.
Spain’s organizations are also more likely to take a rational and conservative approach to decision making:
These findings are consistent with Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison Tool,2 which shows that uncertainty avoidance is prevalent in Spain—more than in Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico.
Despite Spain having a more conservative, rational and top-down approach than LATAM, both regions are united in their adoption of empowered decision making. Over half of senior executives in both regions say they lean toward an empowered approach, whereas only about a quarter say they are authoritative.
This suggests that empowered decision making can be achieved in tandem with conservative, rational and top-down styles, as well as democratic and risk-taking approaches.
As well as this, over two thirds (69%) of LATAM senior executives say they rely on intuition or gut instinct to make decisions, compared to 60% from other international markets. This could be due to a lack of data. When asked to name the main factor in time wastage in decision making at their organization, 'lack of data' was a prevalent response, second to inexperienced decision-makers or poor leadership.
LATAM senior executives are more likely than other international markets to:
The research suggests that satisfaction with decision-making effectiveness is achieved through discussing it at the interview stage, as well as from having more empowerment and autonomy. This then leads to greater workplace happiness: our findings show that those who are satisfied with their organization’s decision-making effectiveness are more likely to be satisfied with their role in general.
But only about a third of LATAM senior executives say they align with their organization’s decision-making style. This could suggest that companies are looking for candidates whose approach differs from the organization’s, or that questions about decision making at the interview stage only touch the surface.
Whichever it is, decision making should play a bigger role when organizations hire senior executives. Not only does establishing candidates' decision-making style help them to thrive once they join—it could also be instrumental in helping the entire organization to make better decisions.