Do you wonder why people question some decisions but not others? Were you ever surprised to learn that others were not enamored of a decision that you made? In my experience, there are two primary reasons why decision-making goes wrong; both have to do with the process rather than the outcome. That is, either the process is misunderstood, or it is perceived as unfair. Fortunately, there are easy preventive measures you can take to avoid both these scenarios.
Decision-making secret #1: Tell others up front HOW the decision will be made
Time and again, I have seen managers run into trouble over decisions they make, not because of the decisions themselves, but because of misaligned expectations about HOW the decisions would be made. Here’s a common scenario: a manager asks employees for feedback about a workplace decision. Employees provide the information, only to learn later that the manager’s decision was contrary to their advice. They are unhappy, feeling the manager has wasted their time and disrespected their expertise, while the manager is bewildered by their reaction.
This is a classic case of not clarifying and aligning expectations up front. No doubt the employees assumed that the manager would take their advice, while the manager’s plan was to listen, then make the decision she believed to be best.
The secret in this case is to state clearly in advance how the decision will be made. Here are some examples of what I mean:
• Manager makes the decision on her own without soliciting employees’ input.
• Manager solicits employees’ input, considers the feedback, and makes the decision based on what she believes will result in the best outcome.
• Manager solicits employees’ input; the decision is based on consensus.
• Manager has employees make the decision.
None of these examples is right or wrong per se; in fact, one person may use all of these alternatives at different points in time. The best choice depends on factors such as the situation at hand and the impact the decision will have. For example, in times of emergency, the manager is not likely to ask for employee input. The point is that the employees’ expectations about how the decision will be made must match those of the manager.
Decision-making secret #2: Ensure the decision-making process is fair
One of the best kept secrets in the workplace is the power of procedural fairness, a topic on which I have written extensively. Briefly, research and experience tell us that even when people do not like or agree with a decision, they will accept it IF they believe the rules by which the decision was made were fair. What this means is that the decision-making process must have these characteristics:
• Be free of bias
• Be transparent
• Allow for meaningful input from stakeholders
• Identify clear decision criteria (with objective standards if possible)
• Be communicated in advance to everyone involved
• Follow the stated criteria
• Justify clearly any exceptions to the rules
The bad news is that managers often make decisions that are unpopular because of situations over which they have little or no control (e.g., no pay increases due to poor economic conditions). The good news is that leaders always have control over the processes by which they make those decisions. The best news is that when employees perceive the process as fair, they will accept the decisions.
Now that you know the “secrets” of effective decision-making, give them a try! And let us know how they work for you.
© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.