Popular managers must have ability to make unpopular decisions

I’m often advocating for mutual agreement on job-related responsibilities and decisions between a manager and an employee. Not today.

Oliver is giving the famous cat 'stare' of contempt. Tucked into the window frame, he does his best to get some fresh air though we don't allow him outside for his own safety, even though his decision on the matter would likely be different.
Oliver is giving me his infamous cat stare of contempt. Tucked into the window frame, he does his best to get some fresh air because we don’t allow him outside. We set these rules for his own safety, but I feel certain his decision on the matter would be different from ours.

There are just some times when you, as the manager, have to set the boundaries for what is needed, whether or not the employee agrees or not.

Yes, I still believe leaders need to elicit feedback and ideas. No one person has all the answers and therefore, it is incredibly important to gather multiple insights and perspectives to make good decisions. Managers must remember, however, that it’s your job to step up and make a decision that you feel is right, even if it doesn’t incorporate all the ideas that have been offered or leaves some people unhappy.

One mistake is for a manager to water down a decision so much that the choice isn’t good for the business, in an attempt to please everyone. Another mistake is making a bold decision, but not informing every one of the rationale.

I was speaking with a manager the other day who had to step in and change the specifications of a facility-related improvement that had been arranged by an employee in his department, because the manager knew it would not be well received at the plant. In this exchange, the manager explained his reasoning for over-turning the decision, and the employee accepted the change even though she personally disagreed with it. And that’s the outcome you are after — understanding, not necessarily agreement.

The more differences that exist between a manager and employee on how to conduct business and/or the tone of the workplace environment, the higher the likelihood that the situation isn’t going to be sustainable. For example, if the manager tolerates a variety of inconsistent behaviors, such as with punctuality, the team is going to feel disjointed. Why can one person arrive late to work time and time again, but another person is reprimanded? That kind of leadership will create confusion and resentment — to the team member and manager!

There are certainly valid reasons why one employee could — and should — arrive later than another. It is entirely feasible that two employees, within the same company, and even the same department, need to arrive at varying times. Perhaps one customer service representative handles a few clients from a western time zone and needs to be available later in the day than his peer. The established hours may be different but keep in mind these important points:

  • Be clear and transparent about the hours for each individual and the reasoning for them
  • Hold each employee equally accountable to be present during the hours they are assigned

When you need to take control and make unpopular decisions, here are guidelines I suggest for things to go smoothly:

  • Understand that everyone’s opinion matters. If you make a decision that is unpopular, listen to the dissenting voices with an open mind, because they will help you be more clear on your decision, or help determine a new course. You can not go wrong by better understanding why someone is unhappy about your choice.
  • Communicate clearly the reason for your decision. Make sure it is fair, reasonable, and grounded in a purpose for the good of the business, not just some personal preference or desire. (That’s big. Don’t gloss over that one.)
  • Be strong in your conviction and willing to own the decision.  Don’t blame the unpopular decision on someone else in the organization just to soften the decision. It won’t make them like it any more nor will it make you appear in control.

I’m pretty sure that our two cats would enjoy a sunny stroll in the gardens, watching and stalking the many birds and bugs that captivate their attention from the screened window sills that hold them hostage inside. However, coyotes, hawks, and bobcats are plentiful in our area. Our neighbor’s cat, Oreo, has successfully survived the environment for many years. Maybe Oliver and Dodger could, too. But it’s a choice we make for their safety and I’m sure an unpopular one to them. So we acknowledge their stare on occasion, but are especially grateful that they abide by the rules without an ongoing battle: they never race through the door or make it unbearable for us with howling cries to go out. Note to employees: state your opinion, but remember that these decisions are not easy for managers, either!

What are examples of situations that require you to establish unpopular decisions? What advice to you have to others in those times? Oliver and Dodger and I would love to hear from you!

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