This is our last post for the year. We’ll take a break and come back in January with a wrap-up on the Minnesota State leadership competencies.
Therefore, I’d like to propose an early New Year’s resolution – for myself and each of us as leaders. During the year I want to expand my toolbox and find new ways to help my work groups reach decisions.
When we’re leading meetings and there are decisions to be made, it’s easy to default to the tools that are comfortable and familiar. That usually means brainstorming and group discussion. Using other techniques can add a spark of creativity, help people remain engaged, and generate better decisions.
Here are some easy alternates to brainstorming:
- Six Thinking Hats – Assign each member to approach the decision from a particular viewpoint. Ask people to have fun and get into their roles, even if it’s outside of their usual comfort zone.
- Interviewing – Ask each team member to talk to 1-2 stakeholders who are impacted by the decision. Share the results and identify common concerns and any new issues that came up.
- Pair-pair-share – Ask everyone to pair up with a partner and spend three minutes discussing their views about the decision. Then group the pairs into teams of four and have them come up with a list of considerations to share with the whole group. You’d be surprised how much new information can be generated in 10 minutes!
We hope you all have chance to relax and renew over the winter break!
Dee Anne Bonebright
The holidays are looming, errands must be run, deadlines are pressing, family is calling, the academic session is ending, end-of-year reports are due, and decisions must be made! In fact, author Noreerna Hertz, in her book Eyes Wide Open: How to make smart decisions in a confusing world, estimates that most of us make over 10,000 decisions a day! No wonder we make bad decisions sometimes.
I’m sure you are in the middle of chaos so I am posting a short but very practical post today sharing Hertz’s top 10 steps for making better decisions – even when under deluge.
- Acknowledge, accept and “come to grips” with reality – we are exposed to more information than our brains can process and we need to accept that and create strategies to deal with it. It isn’t going to change.
- See the forest and the trees – don’t stop looking for the complete picture. Our brains automatically screen out details.
- Don’t automatically accept the stated narrative – work to understand the hidden meanings or intentions in information shared by others. Don’t automatically reject it but dig a little deeper.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge “the experts” and the status quo – ask questions and seek out alternative points of view to ensure you accept what you are hearing.
- Listen and learn from those “who know” – include the ideas and information from those with hands-on experience.
- Use technology to connect with a wider circle of people – take advantage of crowd-sourcing, affinity groups, networks, and instant communication channels to develop a wider circle of peers and colleagues to provide insight, advice and counsel.
- But, confirm the identity, background, knowledge and expertise of your network – you are responsible for the information you gather.
- Embrace “math” – good decision-making requires basic understanding of probabilities, expectations and risk. You don’t have to be a stats nerd but you need to learn the basics.
- Monitor your emotional state – emotions affect decisions just like information does. Develop an awareness for how your emotional state influences your decision-making effectiveness and take action to make decisions at the appropriate time.
- Embrace dissent and encourage diversity – multiple perspectives can open up new ideas, expose additional details, add different information, and facilitate true dialogue.
Last week we talked about ways to show your support for an organizational decision, beyond just talking about it. But what happens if it soon becomes apparent that it was the wrong decision?
A Google search of “incorrect decisions”, which is how I began brainstorming for this post, brings up multiple links: “America’s Biggest Foreign Policy Fiascos”, “Stupidest Business Decisions Ever Made”, and the more generic “10 of the Worst Decisions Ever Made”. Poor decisions are everywhere, but it’s how they’re handled that often gets noticed the most.
Leaders who successfully weather these storms have some things in common:
Take responsibility: Nobody likes to hear excuses. Own up to the mistake, then describe how it will be fixed.
Don’t play the blame game: Throwing your employees under the bus by publicly blaming them, either indirectly or directly, isn’t generally well received.
Learn from it: In retrospect, what could have been done to avoid this, and how can you keep it from happening again?
Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone handles them the same. Taking the high road when things go wrong is almost always the correct route.
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong….To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
You’ve done it: Shown courage, followed through, and made a decision that will impact your entire organization. The next step is just as important: demonstrating to employees and stakeholders that you really meant it.
This is where Actions Speak Louder Than Words comes in handy. It’s easy to tell people that a big change is coming. And it’s often just as easy for those you’re telling to ignore it, hoping it will just go away. That’s human nature – change is scary! But actions aren’t quite as easy to ignore.
“I pay ZERO attention to what you say. But your actions have my undivided attention.”
― Sotero M. Lopez II
Are you launching a new process? Give public kudos to a team which used it well.
Bringing in a new technology? Ask the early adopters in your organization to try it and share with others what they’ve learned.
Introducing new collaborations? Find some early successes and brag about them.
Letting it be known by your actions that you support a decision creates powerful connections in people’s minds.
One of the best decisions a leader can make is to decide to let others make decisions and to create a decision-maker culture. That is what Dennis Bakke recommends in his book, The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.
As a leader, you are ultimately accountable for how decisions turn out. That can cause many people to hold tightly to their decision-making authority. Instead Bakke reminds us that sharing decision-making responsibility actually can lead to better decisions, more employee engagement, develops employees expertise and supports professional development. To help leaders identify the best person, or group, to make different decisions Bakke describes a formal “decision-maker process.” Use the following four elements to guide your selection:
- Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
- Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
- Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
- Wisdom – will you and others trust their decision?
From my experience, when a leader asks me to make a decision it can feel overwhelming and I may feel like I need to prove my worth by making the decision all on my own! If your people react in the same way sharing decision-making can actually backfire. To help address this issue Bakke encourages leaders to coach their people on how to seek out and take advice when making a decision. He also defines good advice as coming from people who have:
- Experience – they know or understand the situation.
- Different positions in the organization – they can provide multiple and diverse perspectives.
- Responsibility – they have an actual connection to the situation and the decision or outcome.
- Ownership – they will back up their advice and the ultimate decision.
It can be scary to relinquish decision-making responsibility but it is a risk worth taking!
I’ve written before about the difficulty in figuring out who’s not at the table when it comes to effective decision making. This continues to be a challenge in my professional life. It’s so hard to hear the voices that aren’t there.
During my career I’ve worked with a couple of leaders who systematically reduced the number of people in their management circles. On one hand, this certainly does lead to quicker and more efficient decision-making. But on the other hand, I wonder if the decisions are actually better.
I understand the need to streamline bureaucracy, and there are certainly many ways to seek alternative viewpoints. The most effective leaders are able to make timely and efficient decisions while still reaching out to stakeholders. Taking time to hear from a broad range of people can generate new considerations or raise issues that a smaller team might not think of.
I worked with a leader at the U of M who was great at this. She demonstrated a genuine open-door policy and listened respectfully even when she disagreed with the speaker. She cultivated a wide network that generated diverse viewpoints. I’ve been amazed at how many different projects I’ve been involved with where someone would say, let’s ask Kris about this. Her openness made it easier for her to find those diverse voices and be connected to different viewpoints.
What have you seen effective leaders do to seek alternative viewpoints?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Since I work in the Wells Fargo Place building, I’ve been interested in their recent ethical problems. A business professor from Wharton recently published an article about the issue. He looked at similar violations in the finance industry, as well as the Volkswagen scandal, and concluded that actions by leadership can normalize what would otherwise be seen as dishonest.
For example, it appears that over 5,300 employees at Wells Fargo were involved in creating unauthorized accounts and charging unauthorized fees against them. Equally troubling, the HR unit had a plan for firing employees who reported the unethical behavior. And because of the widespread misbehavior, authorities are now having a hard time holding people accountable.
We in higher education are not responsible for people’s finances, but as leaders we make decisions that impact hiring, work roles, and many aspects of the campus climate. We can normalize decisions that are ethical, civil, and respectful to everyone. Over the past year I’ve been learning a lot about unconscious bias in hiring and employment, and how some things we consider “normal” are putting some people at a disadvantage without our realizing it. I need to examine my leadership decisions to be sure they support the climate we want to create.
What kind of decisions do you make in your leadership role? How can you be sure they are promoting ethical behavior in others?
Dee Anne Bonebright