Finding that it takes an age to get a decision made in your business? And then people still don’t stick to what was agreed?
Are you frustrated that you don’t seem to be able to get anything done at pace because of a perceived need to consult with everyone before you make a move?
Do you attend meetings that take up a lot of your time, but you are not entirely sure why you are sitting at the table?
I work with clients on these challenges a lot. The good news is if you persevere to the end of the article, there are some quick fixes that can help.
Collaboration in a business is great. It means that the best ideas can be made because you get the combined brain power of different perspectives on any problem you have to solve.
The problem arises when everyone is unclear about their role in the decision making and action taking processes. There is no doubt that making complex decisions is a difficult business, however there are also some relatively simple human needs and traits that get in the way. If you can understand and remove some of those, you should find it gets faster and less complex.
As human beings we are wired to establish patterns and to repeat them to make our lives easier. As as result, if we form an opinion, our brain likes to look for evidence that this opinion is “right” and to filter out any evidence that we are wrong. (For more information about this brain wiring commonly called confirmation bias or cognitive dissonance check the quick blog on this website in the It’s Not Bloody Rocket Science section. A full exploration is Chapter 1 in the book It’s Not Bloody Rocket Science and is called “Lies” for good reason! However, for the purposes of speed today, we are going to take, as read, the power of your brain to ignore information that contradicts strong beliefs that you hold.
This confirmation bias means that when we are consulted about something, we can easily jump to the conclusion that that someone has asked us to supply them with the “right answer”- i.e. what they should do. So when, during that consultation, when we tell them what our definition of the “right answer” is, we can later on, as the consultation process moves into the decision making process, become confused, angry or upset when our “right answer” is not integral to the final solution.
Those strong emotions can easily get in the way of us implementing a solution that we either weren’t consulted on, or were consulted on but where we feel our option was discounted. It is entirely human to convince ourselves that The Idea That Wasn’t Ours won’t work before we even try it.
This means that even if we are forced to implementing The Idea, we are primed to look for evidence it won’t work – and guess what?: Because we are on the look out for evidence it won’t work, our brain is primed to notice the flaws in The Idea – and as a result we can absolutely “evidence” that it doesn’t work.
Or we invent lots of good reasons why we are too busy to try The Idea, or why it won’t work in our team that is “different and special”. You probably know the rest of the story. Lots of time and energy wasted on checking why things haven’t been done, enforcement projects, checklists, compliance spreadsheets. Sometimes The Idea gets criticised because it didn’t deliver the benefits it was supposed to, but when you look closely, this wasn’t because it was a bad idea, it was more about it not getting off the ground fast enough to make the ROI that was promised.
Knowing that this is what we do as human beings can be helpful in it’s own right. However, I also find that the RACI model, combined with that psychology can work wonders. I picked up RACI when I worked in project management for a while (those of you who know me well are allowed to pick yourself off the floor via laughter or disbelief) It is a simple acronym to work through to decide:
Who is R – RESPONSIBLE,
Who is A – ACCOUNTABLE,
Who needs C – to be CONSULTED
Who needs I – to be INFORMED.
Think about a piece of work you currently are collaborating on. Ask yourself these questions:
Are you 100% clear who is responsible for which tasks, when they will get them done by and to what standard?
Who will be held accountable in the event it goes wrong or given the credit when it goes well?
Are there decisions you were consulted on that you felt didn’t need your input or ones you feel you should have been consulted on and no one asked for your expertise?
Are you being kept appropriately informed about all the decisions that impact you? Or do you have too much information and find you have to read through a lot of extraneous data to find the relevant facts?
You would not be in a minority of one if you were confused about who was responsible or accountable or even about what the fundamental difference is. It is very common in my experience that you will feel either consulted with too much about things you don’t care about or have little expertise is, or not enough about the areas in which you feel you could add value. You are also lucky if in your business as much time has gone into how people should be informed and what they might feel as a result so that you can integrate that into your planning, as it has into the content and the timing.
This is where RACI can help. If you work in Project Management you are likely to know all about it already. You may also have a massive spreadsheet with R, A, C and I’s dotted all over it…
But for those who don’t work in project management, don’t glaze over or start hyperventilating at the idea of a huge spreadsheet! I use the principles of RACI with clients to ask some really simple questions, that can better help direct the energies that we put into making collaborative decisions so that minimum time is wasted and the optimum amount of consultation is done.
There are some rules within RACI that help make it work and I have adapted them for use outside pure project management. I’m not always one for rules – I like to bend or break rules as a rule! But in the case of RACI, if you want clarity in your team decision making, I would suggest you stick with them. To the letter.
RULE 1: There is only ever 1 person truly ACCOUNTABLE.
You might have heard the term “Shared Accountability” before. There is an inherent problem here. If one person doesn’t have the final say, what happens when you reach an impasse? In my experience, great leaders know this. They are exceptionally clear about which ONE person has the final say. Which person is truly accountable. These leaders know that collaborating and consulting are vital, but that once the information is in, someone may need to take a final and potentially unpopular decision. This is the person who is accountable. The person who the buck stops with. Sometimes I ask who would get fired if the decision is wrong. That can be quite a clear way to decide who it ultimately accountable.
I sometimes play a version of the musical chairs game from our 70’s childhoods with Executives! There is just one chair. I get them to decide who is accountable. It’s can can get quite pushy and tactical! But it’s a great way to visualise and solve the dilemma.
RULE 2: You can have multiple people with multiple responsibilities, but they have to be collectively and individually ULTRA clear about who is doing what, by when and to what standard
Even better, contract with people on the team to hold one another to account as peers when they don’t deliver their responsibilities on time and in line with what they promised they would. Peer pressure in an honest and trusting environment can make things move at phenomenal speed. We don’t have time here, but look up Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team to learn more.
RULE 3: Consultation is not the same as Consensus. Be clear on that.
When you are consulting with people it is important to let them know that whilst you are asking for their expertise or opinion because it is of value, you reserve the right to make the decision and that their view may or may not make it into the final version of events. In effect you make it clear during the actual consultation, that it is not their decision to make.
I find some words that you can adapt to suit your style works here so try:
“Hi Kate, I really value your expertise and I’d like to get your thoughts on something. Before I do, though, I wanted you to know that I’m deliberately seeking out a range of views and it will be down to me to ultimately to consider them all and make the decision I think is best. I’ll then be accountable for that decision and for making it happen. So to play this forwards, you might give me your thoughts today and whilst I will absolutely consider them in the mix, I might ultimately ask you to implement something else. Are you OK with that?”
This is a form of conversational contracting. We are making clear to someone in advance, a difficulty that we might encounter later on. It is a device I have used often in both coaching and managing because it makes it easier to have a difficult conversation later on.
In my experience, being clear at the outset about the “rules of engagement” makes it easier for Kate‘s brain to process that she will be heard but her opinion might not be the one selected. This reduces the emotional impact later on if her idea is not chosen because there is no element of surprise or threat in it. Also if Kate did agree to this in advance and subsequently doesn’t toe the line it makes it more comfortable for me to go and follow up, even if I usually avoid confrontation or she is a “difficult character”. Because it is something we have spoken about already, I can use that as a way to start what could otherwise be a confrontational and more difficult conversation. It is quite simple to take her back to the point at which we contracted “Kate, I’d like to talk to you. Remember, when we spoke about X and you agreed that you would give me your views, I said that I would promise to hear them but that I then might ask you to implement something else? Well…”
RULE 4: Being INFORMED is not another opportunity for CONSULTATION.
The way in which we inform or tell someone about a decision that has been made – particularly one they might not like – can make or break getting a decision turned into tangible action.
I have found in my experience as an HR professional that direct and brief is best. Colleagues should be under no illusion that a decision has been made and they are being Informed about that and that whilst you are happy to discuss the implications with them, you are not asking for their further contributions about the wisdom of that decision. Again, here are some words that you could personalise that give you a sense of what I find helps.
“Hi Kate. I wanted to inform you about the final decision I made about X. It was to do Y. I appreciate that you might have some strong feelings about this. Whilst I’d would always want you to be honest and open with me about how you feel, we need now to focus on how we can make this work. I know that you appreciate that the decision was mine to make. I now need your help to make it happen”
That’s it. Just 4 letters and 4 Rules. Ensuring people know which part of RACI they belong to means that more decisions are made at the right level and in the right way. A clear understanding of RACI at an individual level means that people can contribute to decision making in a meaningful way and expectations can be managed at the same time.
In my experience RACI reduces the number of fingers in the pie and too much finger pointing after unpopular decisions are taken and not communicated well – freeing those 10 digits up to do some much more productive things!