Employees come motivated, superiors can only de-motivate them. „An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her managers“ (Dr. Bob Nelson). It is so easy to feel de-motivated when dealing with senior management. We have to find ways to not let ourselves be de-motivated by them.
My previous post The slaves of a Scrum team described how important words and titles are: A manager manages and a leader leads. What does senior management do? They manage. But, is managing the task of this senior group of people? Don’t we expect them to lead and only lead?
„You got to understand the differences (between leading and managing) and the people around you got to understand them, and if you don’t you’ll get yourself into trouble“ (John Kotter). That trouble could be de-motivated teams.
A larger corporation had a huge re-organization that spanned over multiple years and iterations. For each iteration, senior management hand-picked a talented and senior group of people who as a team were to define processes, the needed roles and the organization itself. Coaches for organizational change guided each team and provided support. Multiple weeks of long, tough, and enduring discussions in workshops usually resulted in innovative solutions.
Since senior management wanted to be the ones taking the final decisions on the upcoming changes to the organization themselves, the teams were tasked with providing multiple options from which senior management could choose.
Teams produced innovative solutions
Each workshop week, the teams discussed about the newest management methods and found out what would work and what most likely would not. They factored in what would and what would never be accepted by senior management and therefore already reduced the innovation effect within their envisioned solution.
When put to the vote, the team members mostly agreed on one preferred option. The reason why they sometimes couldn’t agree on one alternative was the fact that they didn’t have to. They said „It may not be the best, but I still think this is a good alternative, let senior management decide“.
They mostly worked on their preferred option(s) because they considered spending time on all others as a waste of their limited resource. Only at the end of each week, they invested some effort in the other options in order to make them pretty enough to show to senior management.
All options were then shown to the decision makers. Not, because the other alternatives were any good, but because senior management did not allow the teams to make decisions and wanted to be able to choose for themselves.
Everyone’s solution space is limited
We all have our personal solution spaces in which we can agree to a solution. We seldom pick one outside of our solution space because we do not understand it and fear its implications. „If I had asked my customers what they want, they would have said a faster horse“ (Henry Ford). I recently heard that an incredibly high number of the members of senior management have not taken time to visit a knowledge-enhancing course during the past three years. If this is true then their knowledge and their solution spaces are at least three years old.
Because of our limited solution space, senior management usually selected one of the previously negated, less-than-best, non-innovative options. Sometimes, they even created their own Frankensteins by combining ideas from multiple ones.
The teams began to question why they created innovative solutions at all that would get dismissed later. They felt that senior management didn’t trust the hand-picked teams. They stopped taking decisions themselves and put the smallest and easiest decisions up to senior management. Of course, senior management then probably thought, „We were right! If they can’t decide on these easy issues then we have to take all other decisions as well“.
How to overcome this spiral of death
I could think of multiple ways to change the situation. The first that comes into my mind is to try to change your superiors. But, that is surely not the easiest. While writing this post, Simon Sinek posted this video.
We can’t change other people, let alone our superiors or senior management. If you still try, then you will feel disappointed often. All of us who are trying to change the system just have got to live with what we have. If you are trapped in this kind of situation then use these five steps to overcome being sucked into the spiral of decision death.
- Always believe in your best option. Sell it to your superiors. Envision and explain pro-actively what they might not or might misunderstand. While you had hours to come up with that alternative and to understand the implications, your superiors might not have that luxury. Use simple words to guide them on the path that you have already taken.
- Spend time on valuable alternatives. If you are forced to show multiple alternatives, spend a good amount of time on them: not to show why they are viable options but why they are not. Don’t let your superiors try to understand a half-baked alternative by themselves! Make it absolutely clear why it should not to be used.
- Never show alternatives just to impress on quantity. If there is only one then show only one. If you don’t have alternatives, then don’t make them up. Never ever show alternatives that you do not believe in, that you don’t understand, or that you cannot explain! Otherwise, your superiors might actually select one of these. If they ask you why you haven’t produced further options, then say something like „I actually have identified other multiple options early on. These did not have the potential like the best option and I found more risks. In order to spend your and my precious time wisely I decided to not pursue them further.“
- Don’t ask for permission to decide. Decide yourself. If you have to take a decision for your options to be successful, then just decide yourself. Document which assumptions you made, which decisions you took, and state what needs to happen for this option to be successful. You might not be right all of the time but who says your superiors are? If they don’t like your idea? So what? You only have to make yourself happy. And would you be happy if they chose a bad option?
- Try to make a change. Keep on trying to make a change even if your superiors didn’t pick your best option. They might not have the time to come to the same conclusion as you. They might have further information which they hadn’t disclosed to you. They might have made up their mind beforehand with a preferred solution that you are supposed to come up with as well. They may have a hidden or personal agenda. You can’t change any of these reasons. All you can do is to give your best to change the system and learn during your experiences.
And to senior management and other superiors: Choose people that you trust, trust the people you have chosen. If only we trusted other people, the possibilities would be endless.