Selling unpopular ideas

All the news stories of how unhappy many workers are about Black Friday becoming Black Thursday conjured up images of how THAT team meeting must have gone.

“Uh…yeah…and you know how normally you guys get Thursday off to spend with your family and gear up for the craziness of the day after Thanksgiving?  Um….not so much.  Hey, think of it this way – now you don’t have to do the dishes!”

No matter how it was announced, I can’t imagine it went well.  My very first job was working in a movie theater, and management was very upfront about the expectations, “If you can’t work Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, you can’t have a job.”  Even though we all knew we were going to have to work that day, there were still several employees who complained and whined (and even quit) because it was so ‘unfair’.  (No one does drama like teenagers in a movie theater!  It was entertaining.) Now imagine being blindsided by the decision.  Think retail workers can’t do drama?  Or office workers?  Or executives?

As a leader, you are going to make decisions that will upset your team.  It’s the nature of business and a reality that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t try.  What you CAN do is prepare yourself and your team properly to deliver the message clearly, confidently, and with empathy.  Here are some things you can do to help ease the pain:

  • Remember, it’s not a popularity contest: We get it.  Human beings like to be liked.  Conflict feels icky and bad news makes people sad.  Get over it.  As the boss, you have to keep the big picture in mind and be willing to make the decisions that are right for the business.  Give yourself the permission to make the decision and accept that people may give you the stink eye for a week or two. Be confident in your choice and deliver the message that way.  If YOU don’t own the decision, how will your employees?  That doesn’t give you the permission to bulldoze people with your decisions, though….
  • Make the decision for the RIGHT reasons…and share them: People will get over unpopular decisions IF they are made for the right reasons.  Can you honestly and ethically justify the decision as being the best one for the business that, in the long run, will pay off for your employees?  If the answer is yes, then share your reasoning and explain why you made the decision.  If the answer is no, rethink your decision.
  • Deliver the message with empathy: “Because I’m the boss and I said so” is not the best way to deliver an unpopular message.  Think back to some of the bad news you’ve received – who was good at delivering that message?  Emulate that person.  Acknowledge that the decision is unpopular among the team and allow people an opportunity to share their point of view.  Explain the reasoning, and if possible, include your employees’ ideas on how to implement the decision successfully.  Oh, and if it’s bad news, do everything you can to deliver the message live and/or face-to-face.  Your employees deserve to hear it from you.  When geography makes email required, find a way to be available for questions.
  • Know where your line in the sand is: Some decisions are final, some may have wiggle room based on additional input.  Do you know where your line is?  If not, and you allow a “final” decision to be changed because of a persuasive employee, you run the risk of losing credibility among your team.  On the flip side, if you refuse to budge on a decision that would benefit from some discussion and adjustment, you risk establishing yourself as a hard-headed, stubborn-minded jerk.  Be aware of how much debate you are willing to entertain, and make that clear at the beginning of the announcement.
  • Practice, practice, practice!: All the intent and desire in the world means nothing if you can’t smoothly deliver your intended message (you know, the one with transparency, empathy, and good reasons outlined above).  Use commute time to practice the message OUT LOUD.  The more you say it, the easier it becomes.  Watch yourself in a mirror to ensure your non-verbals are appropriate (how you deliver a message is often more important than the message itself – it’s true!).  Use a trusted confidant to challenge your reasoning by asking difficult questions so you can practice answering them.  Whatever you do, don’t just “wing it”.

Let’s face it…an unpopular decision is called that for a reason.  So do everything you can to minimize the grumbling now and help your team see the long-term benefits.

Got advice for the rest of us?  Share below!!!

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