My phone blew up with rapid-fire text messages dripping with frustration and uncertainty as my friend communicated angst about her boss’s indecisiveness. She languished over the limbo her boss was causing by refusing to make a decision about whether to close the office for a short time or call off a few employees and keep it open. The leader’s indecision was causing insecurity and high levels of uncertainty - a definite recipe for employee distrust and lack of engagement.
Indecisiveness feeds fear. Leaders who lead thoughtfully and decisively through quick and informed decisions reduce fear and increase employee engagement. Best practice as a leader is to review the facts as a team, take all of the input available, and make a decision. Even if the decision turns out to be wrong, this course of action has far better consequences than letting a “shelter in place” edict make the decision for you.
Thanks to COVID-19 today will likely be filled with decisions you have never faced before. Even if decision making is not your strength, be intentional about reducing fear and follow these six steps:
Pay attention to trends: Look to anything that can inform you of the likely direction things are headed. With COVID-19 there are federal and state mandates that can be monitored, as well as countless emails, messages, and web banners that share what other organizations are doing. Don’t re-create the decision wheel if trends can help. Plus, your employees can see the trends too, and they will compare your action (or lack thereof) with what they see happening around them.
Glean input from policies and regulations: Just because trends may suggest a direction, there may be policies and laws in place that require a modification to the trend in your situation. For example, there are some federal regulations that require employees with certain job descriptions in higher education be physically present and therefore a complete office closure may not be possible.
Collect and review: Take all of the data and review it with your team for as long as the situation allows. Snap decisions should be avoided, but lengthy deliberations don’t help anything in a crisis. Identify how much time exists to review the information and give everyone a deadline to provide thoughts and feedback. NOTE: This step is huge in lessening your team’s anxiety levels and increasing engagement.
Be the squeaky wheel to administration: If you aren’t administration, make sure they are informed of your team’s thoughts and data before making the final decision. Don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel if administration isn’t moving in a direction that is best for your area. The decision is ultimately theirs, and it’s up to you to speak up and speak out because no one knows your area like you do. Your team will thank you, even if your desired outcome doesn’t take the day.
Implement: A decision is only as good as the resulting action. Sit with your team, ask for process changes needed to support the decision, and write up next steps.
Communicate: Changes to any area of an organization always ripple outward. Reiterate the change with your team. Communicate changes with colleagues. Keep administration in the loop. If you don’t already have a distribution list, create it. Utilize all communication pathways available.
Delaying critical decisions destroys trust.
Delaying critical decisions destroys trust. Your employees can tell when you make thoughtful and quick decisions for their sake. Even if the decisions are over cautious, the fact that you move ahead with your team endears them to you and keeps the trust relationship strong. You can’t afford not to make a decision.