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How to best include people in decisions

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Business tips
Friday, September 27, 2013


09.27.13 Blog IncludeOthersTim walked out of his team’s weekly meeting in a daze.

It was supposed to be a routine meeting. It turned into a debacle.

Five minutes in, Susie had hijacked the meeting to blurt out a litany of complaints she had, mostly about Tim.

Everyone else stared in silent fascination for the next 20 minutes.

To his credit, Tim had listened openly and tried to understand Susie’s perspective.

Unfortunately, as he sat thinking about it afterward, he realized he did not understand.

Tim had been managing Susie and Lisa in their work on a client contract. Susie was the best analyst on the team, but had zero experience creating client-facing deliverables. Lisa by contrast had decades of experience creating polished products to put in front of clients.

So, after Susie had done most of the analysis and created a solid working draft, Tim had assigned Lisa to take over finishing the work.

And therein lay the problem that threatened to fracture the team.

Susie felt completely disrespected by Tim. She felt that her work was being somehow credited to someone else. And she felt that if her work wasn’t fit to go in front of a client, that she should be told why.

What Tim Did Wrong

You and I have both done what Tim did: we made a decision and executed it, without properly informing others of our reasons.

That might be okay for an emergency room, where seconds matter. In most workplaces, it’s not.

By taking the work away from Susie, Tim inadvertently sent the signal that her work wasn’t good. Tim also underestimated the emotional value to Susie of having the client receive her work product. Tim wanted Susie to take pride in her work, and then destroyed her ability to have any pride in it.

And Tim never gave his reasons. He offered no explanations — leaving a vacuum, a lack of data.

Human beings handle the lack of data … badly. We tend to fill the emptiness with our own imagination.

The monster under the bed is always scarier than the monster in plain view.

Tim gave Susie no explanation, so she invented her own. (Any time you find yourself surprised at a subordinate’s anger, or find they’re making up negative stories, look to see if you left an information vacuum.)

In summary, Tim’s errors included:

  • being in a hurry
  • not explaining his reasons
  • undercutting pride of authorship

Fortunately, doing better is actually quite easy.

What Tim Should do Next Time

A good leader is always looking for opportunities to improve relationships and improve capabilities. In Tim’s case, next time he should:

  1. slow down
  2. only make a tentative decision
  3. write down the reasons for that decision
  4. share his reasoning
  5. ask for input on the tentative decision

In Tim’s case, it would look something like this:

Tentative decision: move working draft from Susie to Lisa for final polish before giving to client.

Reasons: second pair of eyes to proofread the work; take advantage of Lisa’s experience with polishing final products

Next Step: Show the above to Susie and ask for her thoughts. Example question: “Susie, here’s what I’m thinking about doing and why. What are your thoughts? What am I missing?”

This is one way to exercise “Including” — one of the ALICE skills that good managers use:

  • Ask rather than order
  • Listen
  • Include people in decisions
  • Coach
  • Encourage

Read more about developing the first two ALICE skills here.

One other thing Tim needs to do — acknowledge Susie’s contributions, such as by having her listed as a co-creator on the cover sheet, or having her co-present the final product.

(You can receive my free 1-page “Work Sheet for Over-Requiring Managers” by clicking here.)

Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust.


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