Employees propose, bosses dispose! Well, Not always true. Sometimes we do get a 'Yes'.
How many times has saying ‘yes’ to a proposal not yielded any tangible results?
Anita was pleased! Finally, she could say: YES!
Anita’s team leaders had been screaming headcount! every time a project deadline slipped. Now she had solved that problem!
The headcount harangue had been derailing most of Anita’s appraisal meetings too. She was not entirely a greenhorn when it came to leadership. And she did realize that there were other reasons for the missed deadlines. But the noise (read threat) was so great that she decided to go with her team rather than dealing with a mutiny!
Anita presented a head-count requisition to her boss. A big debate followed, getting new headcount was never easy! But Anita got her way. She then pushed the case through the HR loops: job descriptions, org-structure review, compensation structures, acquisition channels... At last things could start moving!
Yet, two months down the line, projects were still slipping and the hiring plan was behind schedule too! Worse, Anita’s boss was starting to get nasty!
Gathering her team-leaders, Anita demanded an answer. Accompanied by much feet shuffling and ceiling-scanning, she got several new, confused, ‘I-guess’ type excuses: the recruiters were sending poor quality candidates, I guess; other business lines were not supportive enough, I guess; technology was suddenly obsolete…I guess!
Many of us have faced this at some point in our careers. Whether it is additional head count, increased pay, copy-cat marketing campaigns or Friday Dressing – our problem is that the leader has always begun our ‘YES’. By saying yes, we eliminated the assignment of blame!
Anita too, had effectively deprived her team leaders of a good cause to protest for.
Didn’t Anita do the right thing by giving her team what they wanted? Maybe, not entirely…
Before saying ‘yes’, Anita should have considered the following:
1. Get the noisiest ones to make the case: Say ‘STOP! Think this through, then get back to me, in this format’. Sometimes an experienced leader can immediately see that the loudest solution isn’t the appropriate one. Yet in the spirit of inclusion, getting the ‘rabble-leaders’ to find out using a structured template is a good idea. People working things out for themselves gives better results than an executive decision – especially when it comes to refusals.
2. Then ask brutal questions: Get to the root of the problem. This isn’t time for solutions, yet. Where are these new people going to sit in the org-structure? Have you made complete Job Descriptions? Have you brainstormed other solutions? Take me through your thought process. Chances are the loudest reason is the most convenient one – chances are there it’s a bigger, deeper issue…
3. Identify payback: Every ‘Yes’ implies an investment! So what are the potential returns going to be? Which metrics are going to show immediate improvements: deadlines? Cost of poor quality? Down-stream processes? What benefits will accrue to people, profit, revenue, brand? Can these be quantified? The agreed outcomes – measures of success – need to be defined clearly.
4. Define punishments: What if not? Who is going to take ownership (read blame)? Like bouquets, the brickbats must be shared too! One might argue that including a punishment-sharing principle may restrict creativity and risk-taking. But it will also force people to put their money where their mouths are! And hey! No one’s running a charity here! Of course, eventually, the buck would stop with Anita, but why should she alone take the flack.
5. Under-commit & overachieve: Once convinced of the complete (or as complete as possible) picture, before presenting it onward for higher approvals, down-playing the expected outcomes, just a tad, can make future success look more attractive (and, god forbid, future failures less horrific!). Some may call it sand-bagging. But there’s no law against it, is there?
Thanks to the deeper thinking and structured approach, at the end of the exercise, it may turn out that the sanjeevani booti isn’t much more than just another strand of grass. A sub-optimal solution, unsuitable or actually low on priority. One that may have cost the company a lot of precious investment money!
It would be easy to advise leaders to stay unmoved and in the ‘NO’ mode. Stand firm and not fall into the noise trap. But that’s easier said than done. There is so much at stake that a solution from the ranks, on a plate, is often presented so vehemently – and attractively – that the magic word – YES – just pops out!
Leaders need not make instant decisions. Like good coffee, solutions need to be thought-through. Brewed – by everyone concerned. Instant coffee tastes yuck anyway!
And people, do keep in mind: There are many roads to business destinations. Not all of them are paved. Sometimes ‘NO GO’ is the correct answer!
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