Solution Saturday: Did I Damage Relationships
This question comes from Megan in New Mexico:
After working with employees for years you reach a point where you can often predict their opinion or next move. Is it still beneficial or perhaps more damaging to ask their opinion if you suspect you will not heed their advice?
For example, we went to an automated ordering system. I spoke with each department manager and store manager separately and just listened before making the decision. Ultimately, the employees did not like the idea … although I decided it was best for our business.
Did I somehow damage those relationships by making it appear that the employees held control over that decision and then choosing a different direction? And yes …. it was the best thing we ever did as a company …
Great questions Megan.
- Knowing your team members. Knowing people is essential to leading people.
- Seeking input.
- Leading through resistance.
Managers tend to resist change because it destabilizes results. They also deal with blow-back from employees. Their resistance may be frustrating, but it’s a force for consistency.
- Don’t give the impression they control the decision, if you’re the one making it. Say, “I’m exploring a new system and would like your input before I make a decision.”
- Seek insight, not approval. “You’re really good at …. What’s important?”
- Avoid broad questions. Ask about what you really want to know.
- If you’ve already made up your mind, explore impact and implementation.
- What’s important to employees when implementing new systems?
- Which employees will be early adopters? How might we leverage their influence and enthusiasm?
- What can I do to make this transition a win for you?
- Explore frustration, don’t ignore it.
- I see you’re frustrated.
- What’s important to you?
- How might we move forward and address that concern at the same time?
How might leaders seek input when they suspect they will not heed it?
How might leaders strengthen relationships when facing resistance?
Dan, this “mending relationships” topic is very interesting, and in the form it is posed, rather unique. I join you in thanking Megan for submitting it, and also for “putting herself out there.” And as always, Dan, you do a great job of not only answering but also differentiating the difference between seeking insight vs. seeking consensus.
Because Megan says she knew her staff and could “predict” their negative opinions about the new ordering system and went ahead anyway, she really was not seeking insight or even staff buy-in. However, because I sense Megan does have a relationship with her staff, I do not believe the situation is as grave as PTSD (Post Traumatic STAFF Syndrome)—whereby the staff feels cheated or damaged, for example.
I equate this to physicians who get sued, and those who do not. Physicians who make medical errors or patient mistakes, yet have good and strong relationships with their patients are rarely sued. While others who are merely “high-tech and low-touch” are sued at the drop of a hat.
One of the beautiful things about being human—especially as leader—is the ability to articulate differences. For example, Megan didn’t make a “pronouncement” to her staff when she went to them. However, later she did make a “commitment” to them. The difference in these two words can be explained: One is in a moment of inspiration, but a commitment is to make a decision and to hold true for everyone involved a vision that makes work-life better, less stressful and more successful. Whatever we commit to, we achieve.
That’s what Megan did. And that’s leadership…staff input or not.
Thanks Books. PTSD — love it!
I’ve read the research on Doctors who spend just a bit more time with patients don’t get sued as much. I think that reflects a relationship/respect orientation on the Doctor’s part. Megan seems to have that same respect. It takes leaders a long ways.
I’m with you. I see the strength of commitment in the question as well as openness to how new initiatives are rolled out.
Insight vs. opinion. Such a great post. The leadership makes (or assigns someone to) make the final decision. In support of that, there should be an appropriate discussion on the points you outline, Dan. Ask them to share insight and never to give their opinion. And two other points: Have a general meeting with appropriate personnel included (not individuals) and make sure somehow the decision with rationale is communicated – maybe asking for insight on implementation.
Finally, I would seriously consider a “Blue Bloods” leadership addition: Someone at the lowest management level (trusted by the employees) being involved with the upper meetings, communicating appropriate information, and available to employees as sounding board for upper management.
Thanks John. I appreciate your insights. The idea of incorporating front-line management is essential. Great add.
When time allows, be as inclusive as possible.
It is challenging to seek input when people will not heed it. It happens when people have already made their mind that nothing meaningful will come out. So, it is important to attract them by showing something useful and meaningful to them. It is more important to know what distract them.
And once leaders know what disconnect people, they should try to address that issue. It can minimise the resistance and start connecting with people. When it happens, it start leading to reducing resistance, strengthening relationship etc.
Relationship is based on mutual understanding. So, leaders need to understand people need. By addressing those needs, they can easily connect with people.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. Taking into account things that distract helps leaders know what it means to connect within a certain context. When people feel understood they are more likely to open their hearts and minds.
Dan, What can I do to make this transition a win for you?” is a powerful question. Thank you for that. Reasonable team members don’t expect senior management or their immediate manager to always agree with them, but they do need to know their input does change their manager’s thinking at times. If it doesn’t, the manager has the wrong person(s) on the team.
Thanks Alan. The thing that blocks the process is the belief that upper management is just faking interest in their input. But, if people feel their input is truly respected, they are more willing to support decisions they disagree with.
Many organisations have policies whereby it is mandatory that leaders/managers seek the opinion of the staff, whether there is any possibility those opinions will be considered or implemented.
There’s a classic line in our annual staff survey “I believe action will be taken on the findings of this survey”. There’s seldom more than 20% of staff who agree with this statement.
Thanks Mitch. Perhaps the question should be, “I believe management listens and considers my input.” ??? Thanks again for jumping in.
I think items #1 and #4 are crucial. First, people need to understand the role they have with respect to any decision being made. I personally love the RAPID decision making model where roles are clearly spelled out – including who is input (the “I”) and who is the “D” (decision maker). Now, if I’m being sought out for my opinion, I’d like to know it’s being considered. If not, don’t seek it.
Having said that, getting input and feedback on change management is critical. Even if you don’t seek input on the idea being implemented, you need to seek input on how that idea will impact your team. Many of the changes we want to introduce ultimately fail because they were poorly executed and not because they are bad decisions. As a senior leader, you have to expect your decisions to be tough ones and often controversial ones. Engage your team and execute change well and you will win more often.
In my view input is optional. Engagement is not. By focusing on the latter, I think your chances of losing your team are dramatically reduced.
Dan, thank you so much for this post! I truly appreciate your insight and am learning more and more the value of effective leadership and relationships. One very positive thing I did learn through the experience was the root of fear in our store. Through talking with the department managers I learned that the reason they feared automated ordering was a combination of change itself, a loss of control, concern over losing some of their value in the business, and of course their insecurities with computers. Thank you again.
Thanks for the suggestions. Although we may not mean any harm in our terminology, we have to know our listeners as leaders.
Overall, YOU CAN’T please all people, but they need to know you respect their ideas.