OK, so sometimes what the boss says is gospel and unavoidable. No doubt about it.
But other times, that is not the case and even the boss would agree. As a matter of fact, in many cases the boss really wants employees to push back!
This lack of clarity creates big problems! Employees are afraid to speak up. Morale suffers. Talent is handcuffed. Trust and honesty are squashed. Meanwhile, the boss can’t find the middle ground between rule by decree and everything by consensus. So what’s to be done?
First off, leaders need to be crystal clear about what decisions have been made and what is open for negotiation.
Second, room for negotiation does not mean a free for all. To prevent this all-or-nothing, consensus-or-decree, you have to break decisions and plans down into their components. For example, look at the levels of engagement possible with this step-wise approach:
“We’ve embarked on a process to increase the effectiveness and productivity of our group.”
- Is this a decision or do you want to know whether your staff thinks this is a worthy initiative at this point? Either answer is fine and neither is difficult to make crystal clear. So do it!
“We have chosen a small team to work on this initiative.”
- Are you set on this particular team? Do you want to know if your staff thinks vital voices are missing? Do you want volunteers? Random volunteers are generally not the best way to form a team. And there is rarely a downside to getting input regarding vital voices that might be missing. However, there are circumstances where each of these choices makes sense. Decide and be clear!
“They will confine themselves to activities within our control as a group, however, everything from your job responsibilities to standard processes to performance management practices are fair game for change.”
- Are all areas truly fair game or do you want to know what areas crop up before the team spends time developing plans for changes you aren’t willing to make?
- Do they have the expertise to delve into all of those areas? Clarity please! The last thing you want is to grant responsibility and then yank it away.
“I expect the team to identify obstacles to greater effectiveness and provide recommendations to me within two months.”
- Is your process negotiable or do you want the group’s ideas about process? Hint: One of the best ways to ensure people accept a decision is to be sure they accept the process used to make the decision.
- Are the people most able to identify obstacles also best suited to develop ways to eliminate those obstacles?
- Will broader input be appropriate for developing solutions?
- Is there a reason for the two months or is that an arbitrary number that you’d like the team to work toward?
- This isn’t rocket science, but it absolutely demands clarity if you are going to be efficient and effective!
“At that time, I will make the decision as to which recommendations we adopt.”
- Will the team present their recommendations to you alone or will the broader group have the opportunity to provide feedback and identify risks before you make your decision?
- Are you set on making the final decision yourself or did that just pop out of your mouth without much thought?
Clarity is more important than the perfect process. Nonetheless, I guarantee that if you think through the steps of your process and the responsibilities at each step using questions like mine, you’ll have a far greater chance of developing a simple, clear process that lets the right people provide input at the right time. Furthermore, you will empower your employees, improve morale, and have fewer decisions to make!