You have gathered input, asked questions, mulled options and finally reached a tough decision and then you hear “How did you reach that decision!” And it is an accusation not a question. In fact it actually feels like a challenge to your integrity as a leader. Luckily a close examination will usually reveal not a lack of integrity but a lack of transparency on the decision-making process you used.
Writer John Cutler highlights this point in his article “Decision Making Transparency.” People on your team want to know how you are making the decision and how they will be involved. It is crucial that you communicate this information with your team before, during and after decisions. Cutler recommends that you ask yourself the following:
- Who makes the actual decision?
- Who will be impacted by the decision?
- What criteria are being used to make the decision? Factors, budget, timing, scope, requirements, regulations, etc.?
- What are we attempting to maximize, minimize, improve, reduce, develop, or achieve?
- How will we involve others in the improvement of decision-making?
Answering these questions and sharing the information will help ensure that your decision-making actions are transparent and demonstrate integrity.
Part of strategic leadership and partnership is the ability to influence others. Whether advocating for their own positions, representing a group of stakeholders, or explaining the priorities of a work unit, strategic leaders need to communicate in a way that helps others understand and support their viewpoints.
Quite a while ago I was given a little book called The Power of Ethical Persuasion, by Tom Rusk. I appreciated his argument that influence can be more than trying to get people to do things your way. He defined ethical persuasion as communicating with respect, understanding, and fairness in order to build stronger connections and shared goals.
Rusk provides a three-step process which has worked for me over the years.
Step 1: Explore the other person’s viewpoint
- Focus on mutual understanding, not problem solving.
- Ask the other person to help you understand their thoughts and feelings.
- Listen without defending or disagreeing. Refer to your position only as needed to keep the conversation going.
- Repeat the other person’s position in your own words.
- Repeat the steps above until the other person agrees that you understand their position.
Step 2: Explain your viewpoint
- Ask for a fair hearing in return.
- Explain how the other person’s thoughts and feelings affect you. Avoid blaming and defensiveness as much as possible.
- Explain your thoughts and feelings as your truth, not the truth.
- Ask the other person to restate your position, and correct any factual inaccuracies as necessary.
- Repeat until you both can understand and explain each other’s positions.
Step 3: Create resolutions
- Review each other’s positions and identify any mutual goals and shared values.
- Brainstorm multiple options without analysis and criticism.
- Review the options and determine whether there is a mutually agreeable solution.
- If not, consider any of the following:
– Taking a time out and then reconsider the options
– Compromise by meeting each side’s strongly held goals and meeting in the middle on others
– Agree to the other person’s position, as long as you believe your position has been completely and respectfully considered
– Seek help from a third party mediator or counselor
– If no solution is needed in order to maintain collaboration, agree to disagree and still respect each other
It’s amazing how often positions that at first seemed mutually exclusive are actually based on similar values and goals. For example, we may disagree strongly on the campus budget, but we can respect that we are both seeking what’s best for the students. I’ve found that starting from that point and working toward mutual understanding can be much more persuasive than continuing to re-state the reasons why my side is correct.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Sometimes leaders know they need to make a new beginning, either personally or for the organization, but they can’t figure out how to start. There may be many options, and sometimes these options are complete opposites.
We’ve written several times before about managing polarities – the kind of decision making that needs to happen when there are two opposing options, both of which have positive benefits.
A natural tendency is to look for some sort of compromise. But sometimes the compromise results in an outcome that doesn’t satisfy anyone. In their new book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin talk about ways to get out of the trap of either/or thinking and come up with new solutions.
So what does that have to do with Legos? As Riel describes in this interview with Harvard Business Review, the executives at Lego had to make a difficult choice related to the movie. Should they hold on to creative control and protect the brand, or should they give creative control to skilled professionals who would create an exciting movie but might not serve the brand well?
The executives came up with a new solution that resulted in a blockbuster hit. It was a win for Lego and for the creators of the movie. (Check out the interview to find out what that solution was.)
Is there an area where you are feeling stuck in either/or thinking? How can you look at the problem in new ways?
Dee Anne Bonebright
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
One of this month’s competencies is: Prepares stakeholders for and involves them in decisions that affect them.
This statement seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but is high on the list of frustrations among staff who suddenly find themselves carrying out changes they had no input into, even thought it directly affects them and their work.
I recently heard a story from an friend who works as a hospital nurse. The batteries used in their bedside machines lasted a long time and came in packs of four, the amount that the machines hold. With no warning, they were switched to a different brand, with the batteries now in packs of three. Not only do the new ones not last as long, there are now partially used packages of batteries to be stored and organized. Nobody asked the staff nurses, the people who would be most affected by this change – it just happened.
Even though this may sound like a pretty minor issue, it certainly wasn’t to the nurses directly impacted by it. And when these types of “minor” situations become the norm in an organization, morale can take a downward plunge.
Inviting staff that will be directly impacted by a change into the planning process, well before it’s reached the decision making stage, shows them that you value them, their contributions, and what they bring to the organization. It’s a simple, but often overlooked, morale booster.