Faced with making a decision that could have potentially disastrous consequences, would you bite the bullet and take accountability? Or would you see how you could buy yourself a little more time, get just that little bit more information that will help steer you in the right direction and wait for more clarity? Often enough, if we have the opportunity to postpone or delay a decision, we would take it gladly, especially if it was critical enough in nature. Though a non-decision in many ways is still a decision, time and time again we see how fear drives us all.
Nobody wants to take the fall for making a bad call. Although our work responsibilities necessitate us making quick decisions, we tend to stall in hopes of more clarity and higher probabilities of success.
Facets of Making Effective Decisions
As leaders and managers, perhaps we believe we need to make all the decisions before us but that is not true. As leaders, our job is to lead and making decisions is but one facet of the role. But with decisions to be made across a spectrum of things, large and small, that may affect one or many across an enterprise, how are we to make good decisions?
The modern enterprise is fraught with many challenges. Layers of organisational hierarchy, informational siloes, an inundation of data from a variety of sources and all the trappings we as managers insert into our processes supposedly to help, not hinder, all contribute to make decision making into that nightmare many of us face on a daily basis.
How can decision making be stripped back to its basics so that it enables us to do what we need to do – making better decisions?
First, it starts with trust.
The entire point of hiring people is to help us get things done which necessitates managers getting out of the way once tasks are appointed. Trust that the people we’ve hired to help us grow our business can do the task set and let them get on with it.
Second, it continues with empowerment.
This necessitates a few things. Organisations need to arm their people with the skills and information they require to do their job. Clarity of objectives, effective planning and a proper handoff are all critical for achieving success. Empowerment also means a willingness to allow someone else to call the shots, make the big decisions and then to see how things transpire. In effect, there is an acceptance of the possibility of inherent failure because we do not control every aspect of the decision-making process.
Third, it ends with accountability.
Together with the trust and empowerment bestowed, is the expectation that the decision-maker is now accountable for what happens consequent to the decisions made? Why is accountability so important? Because someone must take the fall, must be held responsible. Because the buck has to stop somewhere. In our experiences within our own organisations and in the news we see, we note how organisations are increasingly complex, how individuals hide behind the corporate veil, how accountabilities are murky and decision making processes involve a ton of paperwork, governance and time. Can things be overlooked? Can disasters take place? Can lives be lost? Of course, which is why all decisions need to be supported by accountability.
Fourth, it involves building into the decision the action to carry it out.
What does this mean? As Peter F. Drucker stated in his 1967 HBR seminal article, The Effective Decision, “Converting the decision into action is the fifth major element in the decision process. While thinking through the boundary conditions is the most difficult step in decision making, converting the decision into effective action is usually the most time-consuming one. Yet a decision will not become effective unless the action commitments have been built into it from the start.” In other words, decision making is not just about theory – it is about doing what needs to be done to support the decision made.
Decisions without actions are merely empty words. Set an actionable plan from the start to ensure that decisions can be carried out quickly and effectively.
McKinsey in their work helping organisations become more agile, have found that it is possible to accelerate the improvement of decision making by categorising the types of decisions made – they’ve observed four types of decisions : big-bet decisions, cross-cutting decisions, delegated decisions and ad hoc decisions.
Decision-making, like many other things in life, require deliberate practice. More importantly, it also requires quiet reflection post-decisions so that thinking and actions can be reviewed for betterment. Decisions need to be tracked, feedback on decisions need to be sought so that relevant parties can take a look at both decisions made and the manner in which they are made.
Ultimately, good decisions are borne of experience and much as we don’t want to admit, many of these experiences are the result of bad decisions which we come to learn from.
The employee experience is about the entire journey – every touchpoint, every interaction of an employee’s time spent within an organisation. For many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, this may take place over the course of years, if not decades but for many folks today, it may be a period of months or a few short years. Nevertheless, it is still about the journey.
This begs the question, if we can positively impact the employee experience (EE), if we can create memorable experiences, do these not make a difference in their lives and the work they create? Yes, of course it does.
Crafting a positive employee experience involves the entire journey an employee will go through.
Organisational Structures Need to Change
Perhaps, that is the reason why EE has become such a trend. Jacob Morgan talks about the emergence of roles like “Global Chief Employee Experience Officer” or “Head of Employee Experience”. Denise Lee Yohn, in her Forbes article, talks about 2018 being the year of employee experience. What does all this mean?
It is recognition of the clear correlation between frontline engagement, customer service, productivity, performance as well as revenue growth. This affects all employees – candidates, contingent workers as well as alumni. With this correlation must come the shift in our approach from instructional design to experience design. When it comes to experiences, organisations have long held the view that it is about the employee fitting into the organisational culture. It has long been about how we need to get our people aligned to our organisational objectives.
Employee Experience is Built By Your People
But work has meaning not just for the organisation but for the people within. Work brings meaning to our lives, helping us connect the individual tasks we accomplish with the greater goals we work to achieve. As such, organisations need to come half way, realising that it is incumbent upon them to meet the employee at the middle. We, as organisations, need to not just fit employees into our organisational culture. These employees create the very culture itself. When we talk about learning and development, our goal should no longer be about finding out what’s missing in the employee toolkit but rather, asking them what they would like to learn. Our goal should be as Josh Bersin puts it, “to deliver learning to where people are”.
“Employees create the very culture itself.” Get your people aligned to shared organisational objectives.
The focus is on the employee. It is not about what we want from them on their first day, for example. Rather, it is about asking what we’d want their first day to be like. The difference is subtle yet palpable.
In the Deloitte 2017 Report, Reimagine and Craft the Employee Experience: Design Thinking in Action, there is clear reference to the need for design thinking to come front and centre, with 3 principles being fundamental to effectively engaging the workforce.
Principle One – Empathise
The first principle is empathy – that empathy helps you see things differently, allowing you to create different experiences which can have varying levels of engagement. As you move up in your career, you will notice less focus and importance placed on your technical ability and far more focus on those skills that really matter – the ability to influence, to listen well, to empathise, to connect, to collaborate and to lead. This is why empathy matters.
It is a skill that allows us to understand, to share and connect with others in terms of what they see, hear and feel. In other words, it allows us to step into the shoes of another. How are we to effect change, to solve problems, to think up new solutions if we only ever see things from our own narrow world-view? This is why empathy is the first of five blocks in Ideo’s Design Thinking Framework.
Principle Two – Envision
The second principle is about stepping outside ourselves because to envision, we must generate a variety of options and see how these can become potential solutions. It is about understanding that we need not be limited into thinking that there is only the one way forward or a zero-sum game.
Principle Three – Experiment
The third principle is experimentation. In another word, testing, where you collect both qualitative and quantitative data so that you are data-driven. You get closer and closer to a more meaningful evaluation of your problem. This helps you come up with solutions that are more targeted.
We worry that that AI and increased automation will take away many jobs. Yes, it will but at the same time, it will free us to do more meaningful and valuable work. The kind of work that matters. If we want that to grow, to develop further, to manifest in a variety of ways previously unimagined, then we need to craft the kind of employee experiences that touch us in more ways than one.
You’ve worked nights for many days this month and at least three weekends in a row on a big project. You’ve shown the commitment and done the time but Peter, the project manager, has called you for a meeting and has started pointing out some errors you made and the things he is not happy with. Here’s the difference between feedback, and feedforward coaching.
Nobody likes to hear about their mistakes. The same goes to the person giving the sometimes necessary negative feedback.
Don’t they know how hard you’ve been working? Doesn’t it matter?
Naturally, you’re not happy with Peter’s focus on what does not work, even though he did sandwich the criticism between two positive comments. The good didn’t seem to matter. Why can’t he see all the work you’ve put in and recognise that?
This is the problem with feedback.
Feedback is typically focused on the past and mostly, on what is not working. Managers do not like to provide feedback and faced with the situation, would often sandwich negative feedback between two positive ones. The problem with that is that it has the tendency to reduce the impact of what needs to be said and often enough, comes across inauthentic.
Most of the time, negative feedback is sugarcoated, which can diminish the intended effect and create an environment of misunderstanding.
Looking back or looking forward?
The focus on the past also leaves you feeling disempowered. It has already happened and there’s nothing you can do to change that which naturally brings up a host of negative emotions – you feel helpless, upset, frustrated and uncertain as to how to move ahead.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Are most people raised to accept criticism well?” You only have to look inward and realise from your own reactions and behaviour that criticism is hard to take. We see criticism as a threat, we get defensive and we react or hit back verbally (sometimes physically).
What’s the point?
The entire point of criticism is to learn from the past and change what we can about future actions. But if people are focused on the wrong things, then everyone loses. The manager does not get a person who has learnt from his mistake and that person is bound to repeat the mistake because he knows what is wrong but not necessarily what is right and what works.
As Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix : Dump the Past, Embrace the Future and Lead the Way to Change shares, there are three reasons why feedback does not work. First, it shuts down our mental dashboards – i.e. it becomes all about our emotional state and reactivity to what is upon us. Second, it focuses more on ratings than on development. This feels more like a test than a way to improve what we are doing. Finally, feedback reinforces negative behaviour because the focus is on what has happened.
So what can we do when feedback does not work? Here’s a hint: go forward!
This is where feedforward comes in as a bright and workable alternative to giving feedback. Feedforward is future-focused by allowing people to pay attention to what they can do differently in the future. It’s not only about what happened but what can be learnt and then adapted moving forward. It is positive, provides background information and options, makes suggestions for improvement and focuses on developing the person, not just rating them.
It also becomes less about feedback and more about coaching. By involving the person in the feedback loop, he becomes an active participant in the process, thus enabling him to feel more in control. As Marcia Reynolds explained in her article, Why Feedback Doesn’t Work, and What To Do Instead, people want “conversations that pull their ideas out and have their eyes opened to greater possibilities they could explore, not one-way directives focused on what they did wrong”.
Kevin Kruse, NY Times bestselling author (latest book, Employee Engagement 2.0) talks distinctly about feedforward coaching as a great tool for creating a more engaged workforce, specifically that it is a continuous process focused on future performance and career pathing. Engagement is then tied to growth.
How should you start?
- Focus on goals, not standards. This means articulating these at the start and being very clear in your communication about what is expected;
- Let the coaching include career guidance so that you focus on the skills, experience and expertise the individual needs to build upon to do their job.
- Anytime, all the time. Do not limit it to an annual review or set time. The more times these two way communication channels are open, the better the communication of expectations, of problems and issues that need addressing.
In the end, through active participation and a clear focus on the end objectives, you, your peers and managers can come to the realisation that feedforward presents the better alternative.
When we talk of feedback, most of the time, what we’re really talking about is our ability to deal with constructive criticism. No one has an issue taking a compliment but nearly all of us find it challenging to hear something negative about our personality, work style or behaviour.
It starts with truth.
Is feedback not working for you? Understand that our solutions lie not in the quality of answers but in the quality of questions we ask. Let’s examine some examples.
Asking a close-ended question with no consideration or empathy gives the impression that you do not care about your workers’ well-being nor current workloads. Even if the question was not designed to be insensitive, an external party could view it as a “no-excuses” obligation to say – “yes”, or a simple “easy-way-out” – “no”.
Leaders can instead ask an open-ended question with the simple addition of “How” in front of their prior question, opening the door for innovative answers and initiative. It also opens up avenues to be empathetic, in terms of catering to how employers can provide the environment or means to allow workers to take on more responsibility. Perhaps through more L&D events? A robust incentive program? This question invites such responses.
It starts with the truth, a recognition of what we see in front of us and a call for us to be honest about how this may make us feel about the people we’re managing and circumstances we find ourselves in. It calls for humanity, yes, humanity.
The thing about corporate life is that it puts a layer between you and your people. We call on this when we need help and when we’re in a mess. “Am sorry about this, my hands are tied. I wish I could do more.” “I’d really like to help you but my boss says this is how it has to be.”
When it comes to helping a colleague in need, too often we are jaded by the selfish demands placed on ourselves regarding our own responsibilities. Hence, we resort to putting up excuses instead of being honest with our colleagues.
What are we really protecting?
We hold on to this protective layer because it helps us out of tough situations. We’re busy protecting ourselves. But if we want feedback to work, we not only have to listen, we have to take action.
We have to show our people that we’re serious about what we want to discover and then remedy. When we show this to them, not through our words but in our behaviour, then we show our people that we mean what we say.
It is easy enough to see things from our point of view – it is the only view we know and are comfortable with, that we believe is the right view. It takes a big pause for us to step outside ourselves to look beyond at this wide, wide world and consider an alternative to what we’ve always seen and understood. So, “what’s not working?” is less about you see as the way things are and how things need to go and far more about what others see and make sense of things.
You owe a duty.
As an organisation, it is your duty, your responsibility to gather and provide feedback to your people. As an organisation, you should regard as serious, this opportunity to grow your people, to inspire them, to bring out the best in them and to lead.
Gather as much feedback on how you can help your employees grow, then deliver actionable behaviour to cater to those needs and wants.
As much as there are things you are expecting your people to provide you in terms of experience and expertise, they are also looking to you for guidance, hope and faith in carrying out their duties. And more than anything else, remember that they give you the best hours of their days and best years of their lives in the fulfilment of their obligations.
That is a lot.
Allow the space for providing and receiving feedback to be one that is less chastisement and more of support. Ask questions about what’s working so you know where you need to reinforce certain actions. Ask questions about what’s not working so you know what needs to be fixed. Ask questions about what’s challenging or frustrating them so you can see what support you can provide. Explore a variety of channels, both formal and informal, to collect and collate feedback.
Ask great questions for great feedback.
Marcel Schwantes, in his Inc article, Here’s how good managers give bad employees feedback, shares that good managers analyse the problem first in order to understand all perspectives. He shared four questions crucial to helping a manager and setting the right expectations and accountability measures with both parties :
- Does the employee understand what the problem is?
- Does the employee really understand that expected level of performance?
- Does the employee fully understand what will happen if performance standards are not met?
- Have you, as the manager, gotten all the facts? Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
Learn to read between the lines.
You’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated too. Stay aware – learn how to open your eyes to the truth because there is no one version of the truth. We all bring different experiences and insights to our situations and no two situations are alike.
If you’re facing difficulty, you’ll want a good manager who can spot it early, who will come forward to talk about it. You’ll want a manager who is sensitive enough to know how, when and where to bring it up.
Ask the right questions. Be the support your team needs. Learn to read what your colleagues are telling you.
And you’ll want them to be more of a coach about it – asking probing questions, allowing you to come to the solutions yourself rather than being prescriptive and judgemental. Yet, on top of all of these things, you need to remember to stay compliant and stay legal. Do what you need to do and do it right.
HR as the organisational collaboration champion.
What’s it like to constantly be playing catch-up? It means you’re not leading the pack, you’re not a game changer in the domain you operate in and more than anything else, you’re not at the cutting edge. It’s not a pretty place to be because you are one among the crowds, treading a path very much like everyone else alongside you. It also makes you largely invisible.
Don’t be left behind in the corporate wilderness!
Consider this instead.
A new dawn
The thrill of the chase. The idea that you’re out there, experimenting, trying new things and making things happen. People watch to see what you have to say and wait with bated breath. You’re seen as an influencer and leader, changing the game in more ways than one, not just for yourself but for those around you.
It’s a dizzying possibility to soak up but there’s no reason why it cannot happen.
No reason at all.
The truth though is that there are bound to be many failures along this path to success. And it is a path to success because change does not come from doing what’s been done over and over. It comes from trying something new, drawing outside the lines and most importantly, from a strong desire to solve a problem and bring something unique to your game.
Organisational collaboration champion
This is the new role being called for HR as it stands tall, looking forward at the corporate landscape that is is not just a part of but one it has helped to create.
The role of HR has changed, from the previous “organisational police”, to frontrunners in driving collaboration and change.
Because people make up the organisation and HR works to support the talent equation in any organisation. So many negative things have been said about the role of HR and the perception out there of what is lacking in tackling this new world of work.
Just as there is sustained and mounting pressure on CEOs and leadership teams to deliver the numbers, there is equal pressure for HR to step up and step forward and embrace their role.
Because within every crazy or painful difficulty faced, lies the bud of opportunity… if you seek it. And seeking it brings its own reward.
“Within every hardship, there is opportunity.”
However, for HR, there is also untold reward from the recognition and acceptance that will come when HR is seen to be truly contributing, adding value, being strategic and solving problems that relate to people and the organisations they serve. How can that not be?
Every solution starts with ownership of the issue. HR will do well to ensure that their role is driven less by the people around them and more by HR’s own assessment of where it stands in the overall equation and how it sees itself being part of the game in a significant way.
How shall HR do this?
- Question everything. Be driven by your questions, not the answers because the right question makes the critical difference.
- Focus on getting as much of your transactional tasks automated, outsourced or delegated in some way.
- Educate yourself on technology and the role it can play in simplifying your work and your life.
- Dive into all aspects of your business – how it’s run, what customers you serve, what problems you solve, what challenges you face organisationally and what the organisation’s strategic objectives are.
- Have a baseline understanding of the various domains within the business – getting to grips with the financials would be a top priority. Follow this up with data management – having processes and a system for managing the volume of data you’re consuming, driving a data culture internally and analytics.
To quote Seth Godin, “Someone’s driving. It’s either you, going where you choose, or someone else, pushing you.”
A key element in navigating change is through learning.
When we look at the role of human capital within an enterprise, we understand and believe that it is human capital which is our greatest asset. Consequently, the key to meeting our strategic business goals and making progress lies in how we manage, inspire and bring out the best in our people.
As an enterprise, training seems to be the obvious answer to the questions of what and how. Training gives us the confidence that we are doing something, that we are addressing issues and taking charge. But this leaves us with one problem – training is a top-down approach.
Are your employees really fully engaged when it comes to training? Think about how you can
improve your programs from a fully top-down approach.
Shifting the focus
Yes, we can help to prepare our people to perform better and be more engaged but wouldn’t it help if we looked at ways where we put the learner in the driver’s seat as well? The idea here is that we continue to provide training in areas required but simultaneously, we create a culture where organisational learning is fostered, and one where the people themselves chart their path. This combination is significantly more exciting.
Take a look at Unilever. Betty Lau, Unilever’s Global Learning Director, Leadership and Business Skills has long been working on a move away from conventional learning towards persona-designed thinking. Why? To craft a user-focused personalised learning journey. It is a major shift in thinking but at the same time, she says it also provides a key point of differentiation.
Some key words to explore in that phrase – user-focused personalised learning journey. User-focused so that the emphasis is on the user, not the training provider. Personalised so that it makes sense to individual circumstances and is need-driven. Lastly, reference to the journey because it’s part of a bigger picture and not simply standalone, unstructured pieces.
Adopting a learner-centric approach
Alejandro Rivas writes about this (being learner-centric) as one of the 10 L&D trends for this year in his ATD article in January. He says, “instead of thinking about the content first, we think about the learner first: performance, experience, workplace, digital fluency… then, we can create an effective training with more collaboration and social activities in order to share experiences….”. The experience is also so rich in today’s environment as we pick between MOOCs (massive open online course) or classroom training, YouTube videos or shared social environments.
A variety of rich media is including in training today. Harness these solutions!
In today’s world, everything and everywhere presents a learning experience. The quicker we can get to a point where we foster more collaboration between IT and HR to work together and develop organisational plans that put the learner at the centre, the more we foster a culture of learning that works. It’s personalised, it’s driven by the user, it takes into account all kinds of environments and formats, which makes it more real, more dynamic and exciting.
Where to begin?
But any learning technology used needs to start with a plan which means asking the right sort of questions. What are my organisation’s learning and development goals? What is the role tech will play in this? What choices do I want to make? How much do I want to spend? What ROI will I be looking for?
Many of the L&D trends this year show how fast-paced these changes in our environment really are. While this can be dramatically unnerving in many ways and puts us in a situation of constantly playing catch-up, we can embrace the changes that make our lives, our workplaces and our people significantly better.