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The Joy of Change Decisions

Jul 28, 2022

Written by Roxanne Brown

We see Decision-making and Change implementation as partners. This thought was sparked because…

  • When Ed came to my conferences about Change, he heard a lot of Change experts talk about the unfortunate position of implementing bad decisions
  • When I went to Ed’s conferences about Decision Analytics, I heard a lot Decision experts talk about how to get decision-makers to implement the change

Most of us know that Change can more easily happen when the right people are involved in the decision. Unfortunately, that’s often impractical. There may be no way to recognize who should be involved because so much about the decision is still to be discovered. There may not be time to engage the right people because it’s too risky to wait. The right people simply may not be available, accessible or willing to participate. Even so, the idea is to try to involve the right people and recognize that you may not have it right. You may need to bring others in after the fact and try to integrate their point of view as much as is practical.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the same people involved in the decision are involved in the change implementation. It just needs to make sense to the people involved. For example, would the people involved in the change implementation look at the names of the people involved in the decision and believe that all the right roles and perspectives were represented? And, vice versa?

To help sort all of this out, below we outline our techniques to address some of the most common Decision-Making and Change Leadership challenges people face. We hope this inspires you to think about how you can approach change decisions in a new (and joyful!) way.


 The Joy of Decision-Making

Problem 1: How do I communicate a decision to the team and stand firm without shutting the team down?

Some basic philosophy:

  • Situation 1: It’s okay for you to be the unilateral decider sometimes, especially in your domain expertise. That’s why you were hired!
  • Situation 2: Sometimes you have to communicate decisions made by others that you don’t have control over.
  • In both cases, you can communicate the decision and invite constructive reaction from the team. The team may not have a say in the decision but they can have a say in how to make the decision happen.

Technique:

  • Communicate the decision and why it was made. Clarify the implications for the team and what’s expected of them. Acknowledge the difficulties if you’re aware of them.
  • Ask the team to help you make this happen and describe what’s at stake if it doesn’t happen well.
  • Ask the team for their thoughts: “I think I understand the implications for us as a team but I want to hear from you to make sure I do.” 
    • What do you like about this decision?
    • What do you find challenging about it?
    • What would you recommend to overcome these challenges? 
  • Ideally, the people on the team that are most influential would respond constructively. If you’re concerned about this, you could meet with them in advance to get their perspective and then share that in the team meeting. “Joe and I talked about this yesterday and he mentioned these challenges and recommendations. What other thoughts do you have to solve?”

Overcoming objections:

  • You want to keep people out of complaining and pointing fingers and instead focus on what you can control. In other words, remind the team that there’s a lot you can do to overcome obstacles, it’s often a matter of attitude.
  • Say what you’re committed to doing and invite others to offer suggestions. “I’m committed to do X to help us succeed. What other suggestions do you have? What else could we do?” 

Problem 2: How do I get input from the team without creating chaos and confusion about who is deciding? How do I get input and remain the decider?

Some basic philosophy:

  • As stated before, it’s okay for you to be the ultimate decider especially when you have experience that needs to be applied in the situation you’re facing.
  • That said, sometimes it’s a good idea to get thoughts from the team, especially when the team can help you see the implications of the decision and/or when you think they might have some good ideas.
  • You can help them feel heard, even if you decide to take an approach they didn’t suggest.

Technique:

  1. Explain the situation and the decision you need to make. Share why the decision is important to the company and the team.
  2. Say that you would like their thoughts on what you should consider so they can help you see the possibilities and options.
  3. To do this, ask them to take a few minutes to write down their thoughts. This ensures everyone has a chance to reflect on what they see and would recommend. 
  4. Then go to each person to ask what they wrote and why they think it’s important. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand. Thank them. This ensures everyone is heard and avoids dominant voices.
  5. After you’ve heard from everyone, say what will happen next and when they’ll hear from you about it.

Communicating the decision:

  • When you’re ready to share the decision, say how each person’s thoughts were considered.
  • Acknowledge what you decided not to do and why.
  • The idea is not to accommodate everyone’s wishes. That’s usually not reasonable. It is reasonable to consider everyone’s point of view and make the best decision given what you know at that moment.
  • If you feel like the decision you’re making is going to be extremely unpopular, you can introduce it as an experiment, “I understand this isn’t what you prefer but given what I know this appears to be the best decision right now. Let’s try this for a month and see what we can learn from it.”
  • You can also add the technique from Problem 1.
  • The goal is to make sure everyone feels heard by you. This builds trust. It also helps the team learn how to have collaborative decision-making conversations in the future.

Problem 3: How do we make a decision as a group so that everyone feels good about it even though not everyone may not be happy with the final decision?

Some basic philosophy:

  • When making a group decision, you may be concerned about soliciting ideas that you can’t act on or obstacles you don’t have the power to remove. You may also be concerned that you’ll be left with a bunch of ideas with no constructive way for the group to evaluate them. This is where making a group decision using a step-by-step approach is useful.
  • The goal of this technique is to understand what everyone in the group values in the decision because that tells you what each person is using as their criteria for evaluating the decision options. We call this a Value-Based Decision-Making process.

Technique:

  • Explain the situation and the decision you need to make. Share why the decision is important to the company and the team.
  • Say that to do this you’re going to use a step-by-step process to decide rather than going straight to brainstorming various solutions.
  • Explain the process at a high level and then begin:
    1. Give everyone 5 minutes to write down what they care about in the decision. 
    2. Using a Jamboard or other digital collaboration tool, ask everyone to put their answers on the board.
    3. One by one, talk through what each team member cares about and group the themes as they emerge in the conversation.
    4. Ask everyone to add all of the possibilities for addressing what everyone cares about; after a few minutes pause to find out who has added the most possibilities then ask everyone else to come up with that many and add them to the board. Even crazy possibilities are welcomed because they often lead to solutions that are less obvious.
    5. Again, talk through the alternatives and group them into themes.
    6. Now evaluate how well each alternative addresses everything the group cares about, identified in steps b and c above. Don’t just focus on what the group has in common about what they care about but everything the group cares about.
    7. If at this point you don’t have a clear solution yet, identify the set of solution options that make the most sense to the group. See if there’s an opportunity to combine them or if there’s a compromise that makes sense. If you need more information before you can make a final decision, agree on the next steps for gathering that information and schedule a second meeting to finalize.

A non-work example:

A simple example of this process in action is when you and your friends are deciding where to go for lunch. Typically, the group will start to throw out names of restaurants. This often gets mixed reactions and then you have a bunch of options that the group can’t agree on. Instead of this approach you can pose the question, “what do we value?” Someone might say they want to sit outside. Another person might say they need a restaurant that has vegetarian options. Another person might say they want to stay in the neighborhood. Now you’ve identified everything the group cares about and this makes it easier to determine the options that fit. Once you’ve identified those options then you can evaluate how well each option addresses what the group cares about and arrive at a decision.


 The Joy of Managing Change

Problem 1: How do I implement a change decision I was not part of making and maybe don’t even like?

Some basic philosophy:

  • It’s not unusual to find yourself having a negative reaction to a change you were not part of making. At the very least, change can be annoying because now instead of optimizing your work, you have to think about how to do the work itself.  This can feel unnecessarily disruptive, especially if you don’t understand the decision or don’t agree with it.
  • If you’re leading a change you dislike, this is even more stressful. In this situation, taking care of yourself matters for your own well being and for how well the change goes.

Technique:

  • Implementing the change decision you were not part of making means focusing on the  intent and specifics so you know what to do:
    • What is and isn’t changing?
    • What will you need to do differently?
    • What’s in the way that needs to be addressed in some way?
    • What details are still to be worked out?
    • What are you empowered to decide to implement the change?
    • How does this relate to the bigger picture of the company? How does it help with achieving the current business objectives and the overall direction of the business?
    • What benefits are expected?
    • How soon does this need to happen, what are the dependencies and what can you uniquely do to make it happen well?
    • How will you lead this change with others?
    • How will you and others know you’re collectively making progress?
  • The answers to these questions will help you come up with a plan. Even a very simple plan is useful. Often not all of the questions can be answered initially because typically new information is learned during implementation. Because implementing change is a learning process, it’s important to stay aligned with others and revisit and adjust your plan as the change progresses. 
  • If you recognize that you don’t like the change, you can start by reflecting on why to help you manage your mood:
    • What’s bothering you about the change?
    • Were you taken by surprise?
    • Did you have completely different expectations?
    • How different is the change decision from how you identify your role, business, company?
    • Is your ego getting in the way?
    • What is the worst case scenario? How likely is that to happen? What can you do to mitigate the worst case?
    • What are the opportunities for you and others? How likely are they to happen? What can you do to make them happen?
  • Once you’ve reflected on the situation, you can decide how to approach the situation:
    • Take steps to reduce the likelihood of the worst case scenario.
    • Talk to others about your concerns and offer feasible suggestions to address them.
    • Look for the potential positive outcomes as a place to focus your energy.
  • If you need to lead others through this change, think about how they’re impacted and what they will need from you:
    • What will they need to do differently?
    • How big a change is this from their point of view?
    • How do you expect them to react? Why?
    • How surprised are they likely to be? Why?
    • What will they need to understand?
    • What support will they need?
  • Once you have a better understanding of the impact, decide how you need to show up for  your people every day. When change is announced, people pay even more attention to their leaders because they are seeking to understand how to be successful in this new world the leader describes. People will notice your words and actions and take that as a queue for how they need to respond.
  • Creating a good outcome for others is a strategy to stay focused when you’re struggling with a change. You may also want to take extra steps to take care of yourself and find someone that can be a safe place to talk through and make sense of what’s happening as the change progresses. Leading a change you dislike is a highly-stressful situation and something every leader faces in their career at some point.

Problem 2: How do I recognize if I’m resisting a change or if something else is in the way?

Some basic philosophy:

  • There are often very logical explanations for having a negative reaction to a change decision:
    • Previous changes have gone poorly
    • Changes have been announced in the past but didn’t happened
    • Changes with promises of big outcomes were made but fell short of expectations
    • You feel like the impact to you and others is not understood; you don’t know how to make that clear or  what you’re empowered to do about it
    • You’re annoyed because rather than optimizing your work, you have to think about how you do your work
    • You feel like a beginner, rather than the accomplished professional you’ve worked to become
  • Clarifying what’s behind your reaction can help, as well as giving yourself a little grace. We believe that everyone’s point of view is valid, even if we don’t understand or agree with it. It’s a reflection of a person’s life experience. This is a useful mindset when implementing change at work, for both interpreting how others are reacting and your own reaction.

Technique:

  • Walk through the self-reflection questions offered in the previous scenario.
  • If the way previous changes have been handled are a concern for you, think through what you could do to create a different outcome this time. Talk to others about this to see what comes to mind for them. Focus on what you can control and influence rather than what’s outside your control.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, like a beginner or just generally annoyed by the disruption, reframe the change as a learning opportunity for you. Create small, doable goals for yourself to make progress on what you want to learn from the change.

Problem 3: How do I see the possibilities for increasing my joy every time something changes?

Some basic philosophy:

  • With every change there’s an opportunity to increase your joy and the joy of others. Often your attitude toward the change makes the biggest difference in how well it goes.
  • While change can feel like it’s being done to you, it’s also a time of possibilities. When change happens, it often means that things you’ve wanted to change for a while can be part of this change. Maybe you’ve wanted to change a process or change the way you work. These can be made part of the change outcomes.

Technique:

  • Explore the potential positive outcomes for this change:
    • What are the opportunities for you? For others?
    • Imagine yourself in six months thriving in the new situation. What’s happening? What are you doing? What is your vision of an ideal future?
    • What excites you about the vision?
    • What could you stop doing or start doing to make this happen?
    • How can you make adjustments over time so that it’s not too disruptive for yourself and others?
  • Explore the potential for growing joy in your work and  work relationships:
    • When do you enjoy your work most? How can this change help you expand that?
    • How can you contribute joy to your colleagues during the change?
    • What could you do in this change to strengthen trust in your colleagues?
    • How could you lead this change with others in a way that positively impacts the culture?

These are just a few techniques we use for to manage change decisions well. We hope this inspires you to think about how you can approach change decisions in a new (and joyful!) way.

Create Your Joy at Work Intention

A Self-Paced Video Course

This course steps you through a process to develop your Joy at Work Intention as a Change Expert which serves as a touchstone to guide your words and actions, especially when things get difficult. Your intention statement helps you navigate risky situations and see the opportunities to show others your vision for how to lead others to change. Your Joy at Work Intention clarifies the impact you hope to have through your work.

Learn more!