Unilateral Decisions

We’ve all been there. You’re at your desk, kiosk, podium, workbench, production cell, steering wheel, console, on stage, on set, behind the camera, behind the glass, behind the bar, on the corner, etc. whiling away your work day and then… the proverbial poo rolls down the hill and into your unsuspecting lap.

Yet another unilateral decision has been made by the company’s senior staff and is now being disseminated with varying degrees of tact to the worker bees. In some cases, the task is doled out through the chain of command, whose agents delay the delivery as they quietly bang out a resignation letter only to chuck it in the round file and then cheerfully pass the “good news” on to the professionals and skilled workers at precisely the most inopportune moment of the day.

Other organizations call an impromptu all-hands-on-deck and lay out the new law of the land via a scripted statement assembled in haste by an executive assistant (or the lone marketing copy editor because they’re good at that sort of thing) working from a human resource consultant’s template. Some executives go with the full Bill Lumbergh and casually drop by your workstation with an affected “attaboy” and then launch the sidewinder as they scoot on over to the next unsuspecting group.

Perhaps the least appreciated method is the email bomb. The CEO, President, Head Chef, Plant Manager or whoever grabbed the nearest “thoughts on leadership” book from the shelf and tore through it to the earmarked page with their favorite “how to effectively communicate organizational change on a Friday” phrase, fiddled with Outlook for ten minutes, plagiarized the author and hit SEND!

Regardless of the message or the method of delivery, the recipients will reject, mock, silently and immediately begin plotting their escape/revenge/sabotage scheme, or effectively shut down for the day when any decision that affects their every waking hour at work was made in a closed meeting, amongst a handful of executives, without universal input from the professional staff that have to change course mid-stream and execute the new directive.

Sometimes, it just has to be this way. But it rarely does.

Organizational changes are a function of doing business and as such are inevitable. How a company arrives at the decision to pivot and subsequently to communicate the change is a direct reflection of the culture. Not the culture triumphantly declared and emblazoned across the website. The flesh and blood manner in which members of an organization interact — the real culture that customers and consultants can detect behind the scenes.

Executives who live and die by the unilateral decision (especially those that thrive on starting the quarter — or the new year — with a string of “game changers”) are cultivating a culture of mistrust and almost assuredly a workforce that hesitates to push boundaries or invest time in new ideas of their own.

More often than not, a group discussion, a series of kaizens, an open letter to the president or a string of petitions are lurking just beneath the surface of acceptance. The meetings are going to be held. The voices of unrest will be heard (or the revolt will happen slowly over time through side bargains and scuttlebutt, and lapses in delivery).

In a healthy working environment, decisions about changing course, altering a process, upping the metrics or flipping KRAs and KPIs are made through thoughtful discussion, respectful debate and documented outcome.

This is the most effective tack toward the elusive state of universal “buy-in” and when practiced, yields far better results than the executive declaration and mic drop known as a unilateral decision.

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