Make A Decision! Or Risk Losing Respect

I love the meme: Be Decisive. The Road of Life is Paved With A lot of Flattened Squirrels That Couldn’t Make a Decision.  Ok so we aren’t talking about life or death decisions here but the consequences for failing to make decisions can be dire.

I have served as an Executive Coach for nearly twenty years and in that time I have heard many candid reviews about leaders from those they lead.  One of the #1 complaints?  Leaders who can’t make decisions.

I can assure you, if you are a leader that hems, haws and drags your feet making decisions you are causing great frustration for your team.  Leadership means providing direction and order for people to do their work effectively.  Part of that responsibility is making decisions that impact their priorities, resource allocation and clarity of expectations and goals.  When leaders take too much time making these critical decisions, they hold up progress from every layer under them in the organization.

Leaders must make decisions every day. The best leaders are transparent in their decision-making. They communicate how decisions will be made and make clear to those who report into them what levels of decision making authority and autonomy they have  within their areas.

Context matters in decision making.  Different situations call for different styles of decision making. Leaders have several to choose from — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are four primary decision making styles to consider:

Authoritative: The leader decides and then communicates a decision. This style is best for scenarios with urgent tight time frames (a crisis) or when the leader is the only person with the insight or information necessary to make the call. Wise leaders avoid overuse of this style. They know using it means risking little or no buy-in to their decision.

Consultative: This style is about getting input from the team prior to a leader making a decision. A leader might begin from scratch with this style, saying “I am going to make a decision but I want your input before I do, what do you think about…?” or, “I have narrowed my decision to two options, but before I decide I want to run these two options by you to get your input.”  I encourage leaders to use this style generously. Why? It allows for influence and input from others (thereby increasing buy-in, commitment and reducing risk) but keeps clarity around who is making the decision (you, the leader) intact. A word of caution: If you aren’t open to influence, don’t pretend you are. It’s a huge mistake- I have stories about how it can backfire. Be prepared to disclose your rationale for not following recommendations or suggestions and don’t take too long to make the call once you get the input.

Consensus: With this style (FYI you lose your right to veto as the leader), essentially the team agrees to support the decision of the group. The plus — this often results in buy-in and commitment. The minus — trying to achieve consensus can be difficult and time-consuming. One stubborn person can hold up the process thereby creating the  “tyranny” of consensus. Trying to make all team decisions by consensus is a recipe for team frustration and struggle. Consensus shouldn’t be attempted with challenging decisions that require responsiveness and timely action.

Delegation: With this style, leaders give their decision-making authority away to others. This styles builds individual and team confidence/satisfaction (autonomy is a huge motivator for people) and it makes sense when someone clearly has more experience, skill and understanding required to make the call. Make sure to provide clear parameters when delegating.

I frequently observe and coach team meetings and often ask the question, “Who has decision-making authority over this?” Too often, no one knows. Meetings are a tremendous investment in resources; having clarity around decision-making authority, commitment and accountability are critical to bottom-line results. For critical or complex initiatives, or if the majority of your meetings are spent wasting time, getting expert help to achieve results may be in order.

Get Your Team Unstuck with a Facilitator

Many workplace teams find themselves stuck, unable to collaborate effectively or work through differences.

Teams mired in conflict, frustration or mediocrity can often benefit from outside expertise to minimize the low morale and disengagement fallout from can result from team conflict. Teams stuck are at risk of losing talent and/or team productivity. Bringing in a strong team facilitator can foster healthy debate, accountability, commitment and trust.

A facilitator’s role is to improve the way the team identifies challenges, solves complex problems and moves forward with a successful action plan. The best facilitators develop customized exercises to increase safety and team skills to make dialogue and honest candid feedback possible. Team meetings facilitated by solid professionals won’t be boring or frustrating.

A professional facilitator can help your team:
• End meetings with actionable items and clear decisions
• Increase participation, dialogue, engagement and accountability
• Work through conflict effectively
• Surface any “elephants in the room”
• Test assumptions
• Drive to solutions vs. getting stuck with whining and blaming
• Clarify roles, task expectations and goals/objectives

Outside facilitators aren’t hampered by internal political agendas, they should be impartial and neutral. Because outside facilitators have no decision-making power or authority over the team they are non-threatening and can therefore guide a team move towards productive change. They support teams with structure, safety and the right questions to encourage input, inquiry, healthy debate and dialogue.

I regularly help teams with facilitation. I can be reached at maureen@pathtochange.com or 425 736 691.

My Appearance On KING5 New Day Northwest

I was a guest on the KING5 New Day Northwest program on the topic of how to deal with difficult co-workers.

My 5 tips:

1) Consider first that you also might be perceived as “difficult”.

2) Don’t avoid the problem, deal with it (before running to the boss or HR to “solve the problem”).  Avoiding it leads to mounting frustration and resentment.  And going to the boss before trying to resolve it yourself makes you look bad.  Take the initiative to address the issue with your co-worker.

3) Identify what kind of relationship you want with your co-worker.  Identify your intention for the relationship and communicate this to the co-worker.

4) Identify and relay what your part is in the conflict.  “This is how I see I have contributed to our challenge…”

5) Identify and offer feedback to the co-worker about what behavior you have been experiencing from them that you deem is problematic.  De personalize it by describing their “behavior” not just saying they are “being rude” or “aren’t being a team player”.  Ask for what you want/need to make work life better.

 

Culture Matters To Long Term Success; How Amazon Gets it Wrong

A recent article in the New York Times “Inside Amazon Wrestling Big Ideas In A Bruising Workplace” has everyone talking including me—in case you missed it, I wrote an Op Ed for the Puget Sound Business Journal, “Opinion-Amazons Churn and Burn Culture Isn’t Sustainable”

My points in summary;
The NYT article describes employees who are suffering and in pain in their workplace. Basic human needs (health, life balance, relationships outside of work) have been neglected. People report its not uncommon for people to “cry at their desks” and put in 85 plus hour work weeks with little or no regard/support from managers for family crisis or health emergencies. The comments provided by workers include, “people practically combust” are sad and disheartening.

Bezo’s laundry list of 14 leadership principles that guide the company is comprehensive when it comes to best practice “driving the business” components, but misses the fundamental human emotional capacities that ultimately supports relationships that are the heart of the business. The “heart” appears to be missing in the culture at Amazon.

Surprisingly, the Amazon culture doesn’t reflect the needs of the Millennial generation (well researched by the way) –while other big tech companies are proactively building workplace cultures that support their needs (paternity/maternity benefits, onsite gyms and areas to support socializing with teammates etc), Amazon seems to favor a high tech sweat shop.

Amazon leaders encourage staff to provide “secret feedback” to one another’s bosses which then gets used against them in their forced performance review “rank and yank” method. This fosters a shark tank environment and promotes rival internal politics of the worst kind.

In my view, a churn and burn culture isn’t sustainable in the long haul. White collar turnover is very expensive and has big negative impact to morale, team, workplace performance, burnout and worker health. High tech white collar professionals often exit with the “keys to the kingdom” either in company specific intel, relationships or unique ability to make what needs to work in the business.

What does all this mean to you as a leader? Culture should be at the top of any senior leaders priority list. Pay close attention to what kind of workplace culture you are creating and supporting. Conduct surveys to illuminate any potential blind spots. Notice if employees are typically engaged, energized and happy to come to work to contribute? Is there “heart” in your leadership? How are you focused on helping talent get better and then retaining them?  How do you use feedback to help you and those who report to you learn, grow and develop as leaders.  These are not simple challenges.  If often helps to get an objective outside expert involved.

I can help through my Executive Coaching, facilitating leadership retreats and conducting leadership development training/workshops/activities for your staff development. In my view, this should be a critical priority for all senior leaders. Hopefully this expose written by the NYTimes serves as a wake up call for leaders everywhere.
Maureen Moriarty
425 736 5691
pathtochange.com

If you have worked with me, you know my level of commitment to helping/serving my clients. Please pass my contact information on to others. Referrals are deeply appreciated.

Are Jerks Winners?

A headline from The Atlantic recently caught my eye, “Why It Pays to be a Jerk”. I have counseled “jerks” in my Executive Coaching practice from time to time — I am highly skeptical about the “payoff” for being a jerk. In a nutshell, the article focused on new “success” research suggesting to get ahead “put your feet up on the table, take the last doughnut, speak first and interrupt” offering “assholes” (his words not mine) like Steve Jobs and General Patton as success models.

What kind of message is this sending to the workplace? Ugh.

In one research experiment, individuals violating long-standing norms (invading personal space, claiming undo credit or taking the last cookie) were seen by viewers as someone they would see as a boss or worthy of being “put in charge” over those acting “normal.” Academics name this “prestige” factor – from cavemen days to today, we are more apt to follow leaders who think can provide what we need —build a better fire, kill game or fight off threats. In workplaces, we want a leader to get us what we need to succeed–resources and providing protection from threats (think competitive advantage or other senior leaders roadblocking your important project).

Back to the experiment– someone who helps the team gain resources is viewed positively even if (sadly) they behave like a jerk to get it. I must admit this resonates with some of my client experience–leaders often send messages to staff that its OK to be a jerk if doing so improves the bottom line. For example, take performance reviews–I see many that are contradictory around “jerk” behavior. An individual is reprimanded about behavior that upsets peers but applauded for their ability to drive projects forward.

Leaders need to be seen as capable of driving change and taking a position but never in a toxic way. There is a big difference. In my coaching practice, professionals seen as critical contributors are often “sent” to me for coaching and counseling about how to drive action without offending people. I am brought in to help them tone down their dysfunctional or problematic behaviors and learn skills in persuasion, conflict resolution and negotiating to get results but without offending everyone in the room.

C suite wannabes also need to monitor overdone people pleasing ways. Amy Schumer’s viral video of women constantly saying, “I’m sorry” is a wake up call for professional women.

How we behave in workplaces adds up to how we are perceived by others. Constantly accommodating, acquiescing and deferring can negatively impact whether or not people will want you as their leader just like acting like a jerk can.

My take on the “Be a jerk” headline-context matters greatly. There are times when taking a difficult stand, interrupting a droning peer (you may get applause for this act) or making a tough decision like laying off the office problem person (even if they are a star performer) is the right answer.   But how you do it is critical–these leadership challenges are the crux of many of my coaching conversations.

Watch how your behaviors impact peers–seek feedback and get a 360 review if you haven’t had one done. The one I use with clients is 100% confidential and is designed for leadership development. My clients regularly walk away from my 360 review sessions with vital new feedback that helps them become more successful leaders. If you are a leader or manager seeking to improve or move upward–you simply can’t afford not to know how co-workers, reports and superiors perceive you.

One final thought –jerk behaviors viewed as offensive, abusive or toxic will lead you only one place—out the door.