Happy with the Process

When employees are unhappy with a decision that leaders have made, often they don’t react against the decision. Instead they complain long and loud about the process.

“All sides were not heard adequately.”
“There wasn’t enough time.”
“We didn’t know how the decision would be made.”
“Key discussions were behind closed doors.”
“The right people weren’t involved.”
“Clearly some ulterior motive was at work here.”


The

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decision could have been restructuring the team, moving office spaces around or setting a new strategy. Sometimes complaints are just an indirect way (and so perhaps a safer way) for people to voice their unhappiness with the outcome. But sometimes the complaints are legitimate.

A fair and open process is key to building trust in a team, keeping morale strong, and nurturing a productive work environment. Here is a simple five-step process that can take thirty minutes, thirty days or thirty months. The process is transparent and allows people to participate meaningfully while preserving the legitimate role of leaders to make decisions. Here it is.

First, explain the process to all the key stakeholders in the decision, and what the timeframe will be for a announcing a final decision. Here then are the five steps that leadership will lay out to everyone.

Step 1. All those with a legitimate stake in the decision will have an opportunity to express their views to the decision maker.

Step 2. The decision maker will reflect on all the input and come to a preliminary conclusion, perhaps after consulting with superiors as appropriate.

Step 3. The decision maker will inform the stakeholders of his or her preliminary thinking about the decision and the reasons for it. (If the decision maker presents two to four options with pros and cons, he or she must indicate which is the currently preferred option and why.)

Step 4. The stakeholders will then have an opportunity to give input to the decision maker in response to the preliminary conclusion.

Step 5. The decision maker will then reflect on this input, make a final decision and announce it.

This process has plenty of room for flexibility. For example, the input in Step 1 can be one-on-one interviews, anonymous surveys, group discussions or a combination. Also, who and how many stakeholders are involved (and how it is decided who they are) can vary. In general, I think it is better to err on the side of including more people than fewer unless the decision involves private, personal or sensitive information.

As suggested above, the timeframe for the process can be extended or shortened as appropriate for the decision being made. And for leaders who think it is way too time consuming regardless, this is a much better use of time than dealing with employee fallout from a badly managed decision-making process.

Alert readers will have noticed that this is actually a six-step process. The first step is to tell everyone what the five steps are. Informing people openly and ahead of time how the process will work is essential.

This process won’t make everyone happy with the final result. Yet these steps preserve the authority and responsibility of the decision maker, while showing true respect for the people who will be most affected by the decision being made. That is no small thing.