Communicating Tough Decisions to Team Members

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Getting buy-in on tough decisions from team members is a challenge for many leaders when the change initiatives may be unpopular.

For example, let’s say that a company’s owners have made a tough decision to change their employees’ health insurance carriers. This could be a real hassle for many workers—it might mean having to change doctors or an upset in their regular medication prescriptions.

Given this news, a reactive manager—himself displeased with the news of the impending change—might go to his employees and say, “It wasn’t my decision, but someone from corporate said they’re going to change our insurance to a new provider again.” He might even just leave it like that, letting the team members fend for themselves as far as the logistics of the decision are concerned. I’ve personally experienced managers take this approach quite frequently.

A Better Approach

In contrast, a better leadership approach is to present the tough decision to team members in as positive a light as possible. Assure them the corporation is not changing insurance carriers to make a profit for itself (if this is the truth) or to take benefits away from those who need them but because the new insurance will provide better coverage for everyone.

Be honest about the downsides of the tough decision, but also highlight its good points because you understand how important it is to take responsibility for making the purpose of the decision clear.

It only takes a few minutes of your time to present information to your team members and allow them to react, following the NORM, STORM, FORM, PERFORM model. If the decision is really unpopular, meet with them in small groups. It’s your job to make sure that everyone leaves knowing why the change is happening and how it will affect the workplace and each of them as individuals.

Let the Values Decide

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are,” noted Roy Disney, and he was right. When facing a difficult decision, look to the organization’s values and your personal core values for guidance rather than following your own personal agenda. When bad news arrives, and we must act, this practice helps us make tough choices by remembering what is beneficial to as many people as possible.

Working for your own interests when it comes to decision-making may seem like a harmless way out when you’re in a pinch. For instance, if there is a quality issue with your product, but you’re on deadline and within budget, what harm would it do to ship the product anyway, especially if no one would notice?

But the danger in such shortcuts is that once you start taking them and getting away with them, it’s awfully hard to stop. Soon, your sidestepping of the rules will turn into a habit that runs against everything the company stands for. And how good can you feel about your work when you know that you’re undermining the core values that you agreed to uphold when you took the job?

Tough Decisions about Core Values

Tough Leadership Lesson

This does not occur to some managers, however. They simply focus too much on numbers and on the amount of product their teams turn out to be concerned with the larger picture.

I came across this problem in a company that I worked with not too long ago. This business had a desire to produce a quality product in a safe way, utilizing a culture of teamwork among its core values.

These are great values and impressive things to strive for. For the most part, I found a great amount of respect for and support for these core values among the company’s leaders.

However, there was one plant manager who just wasn’t buying into it. He was overly concerned with the production objective but not so much with the safety and teamwork aspects. And, not surprisingly, his behavior on the job was sometimes deemed questionable.

In fact, it was discovered that he had been hiding rancid products instead of admitting that he had made a mistake in his production and properly disposing of them.

It was an unethical decision that made it clear he was not thinking about the long-term future of himself, his team or the company.

It probably goes without saying that this unethical solution cost the plant manager his job.

Each of us needs to remember we do not work in a bubble, and that following values, policies, and standards are important to the decision-making process. It sets a good example for employees and encourages them to get more involved in the process themselves.

We Are on Stage

When team members see their managers behaving like this, it certainly doesn’t inspire them to do any better themselves. They figure if their manager isn’t upholding the company’s core values, then why they should? This creates a vicious cycle of laissez-faire attitude that can do real damage to the company.

Each of us needs to remember we do not work in a bubble and that following values, policies, and standards are important to the decision-making process. It sets a good example for employees and encourages them to get more involved in the process themselves.

Sound simple? it isn’t because it takes conviction to make hard decisions when others may not support you.

Bottom Line

When making decisions, consult your company’s core values and make sure that any choices you make are in alignment. Role model these values for your team members, and you will gain their trust and respect even more, especially when it comes to the decisions you make for and with them.

I’d Love Your Feedback on the Tough Decisions You’ve Made

How do you handle tough decisions? Comment in the box below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Tim Cummuta says:

    Dr. Whitaker,

    What a timely article. I work with a great many small to medium size companies facing just these issues predominantly caused by PPACA . So many of these employers are faced with draconian changes to their benefit plans because they must either increase employee participation costs dramatically or eliminate insurance altogether and pay the penalties imposed by the new law. The bottom-line is that drastic changes are coming, most not good, and these employers are faced with disseminating bad news.

    I know of one employer which has 400 employees and currently about a third of the employees with company sponsored health insurance. The company’s revenue is based upon state-sponsored programs. This means they will not see revenue increases but rather decreases each year. Due to these state-sponsored programs and low profit margins, they are faced with a no-win situation. To insure the additional employees will cost the company more than $500K a year. They do not have the profit margin to pay those increased costs. Another alternative is to lay off about 150 workers to meet the increased insurance costs. The final solution, which they will probably take, is to drop insurance entirely and pay the mandated fines. This means the company’s costs will only increase about $200K which will not put them out of business and allow them to keep all of their employees.

  • Dr, Whitaker says:

    Dr. Whitaker,

    I believe you are spot on related to the responsibiilies of true leaders as it pertains to the obligation to communicate effectively, especially as it pertains to difficult situations.

    Great insight in your article for those lucky folks who have not had to choose the right path in a difficult situation.

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

  • Lori Andres says:

    Dr. Whitaker,
    I think this makes a lot of sense. I am just graduating in the field of Healthcare Administration and have had many such discussions with my instructors. To me it makes sense, as a leader, we are to be role models at all times whether we feel like it or not. People watch us and then decide for themselves, given our behavior how to react. I think as a leader in my own organization, I would always want to be positive and uplifting no matter what. I think communication is vital, but it isn’t always spoken, sometimes it is body language, or facial. There are so many ways to motivate others, but we must keep in mind always our own vision and strength, and be aware of our impact on our employees, as well as being very approachable and genuine. Thank you for a great article.

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