Human Resources gospel has always been to make employees feel as if their opinions counted. After all, this is America, and democracy is a good thing, right? Not always.
Your workplace is not a democracy. We know the value of democracy in a representative government, but in reality, what value does an opinion contribute to your organization? Most of the time a single person’s opinion adds zero value and actually drains resources that could be used to add value. A non-decision maker offering their opinion usually derails the team into a search for consensus rather than all efforts going toward implementing with excellence! Many people without expertise and without decision-making authority mistakenly attempt to add value by offering their opinions when what is really needed is their actions!
Seriously, if you think you are having a heart attack, and you race to the emergency room, do you care what the receptionist on duty thinks is wrong with you? Or would you rather hear from the cardiologist? And is the receptionist offended when you want admission services from him or her rather than a diagnosis? NO. Then why are so many employees offended when their opinions are not solicited on each and every issue?
These same employees who want to be consulted on each and every decision are creating chaos in the organization. Can you imagine what the morning commute would be like if each person took time out to discuss their opinions of whether or not stop signs were needed at a particular intersection? No, they just stop, not feeling at all offended that they were not consulted and then drive on. We need the same behavior in the workplace so that we can move on to results.
Leaders, quit creating the impression that buy-in is optional and that everyone has the right to their opinions, even when it costs the organization its progress.
When people ask me, "Cy, do you want my opinion?" I say, "That depends. Has a decision has been made?" And if the answer is "yes," then I don’t want to hear their opinion! It will be superfluous at best; counterproductive at worst. In reality, Google has replaced opinions. We used to solicit people’s opinions a lot more often in the workplace because we needed to gather information about how things were being done in other companies where they may have worked in the past. We lacked the huge library of potential solutions that we have today, when a simple Google search can provide us with a myriad of opinions and best practices to choose from. So it no longer makes sense to use our precious talent and resources to try to generate ideas and opinions. I would rather they use their expertise to make the decision work!
Now, if they’re coming to me before a decision has been made, it also depends. Are they the decision makers? Do they have relevant expertise? If not, then their opinion is again of no value to me or to the organization. Does this mean I don’t care about them as valuable members of the team? Absolutely not. And that’s just one of several good reasons not to encourage them to editorialize about decisions in which they have no say.
For 90% of people in any organization at any given time, their role is simply to be informed – not to make, or comment on, a decision. If you subscribe to the idea that everyone’s opinion has to count, in effect you are handing out veto power to the majority while only a minority has the power to say "yes." This sets up a paradigm in which it’s very difficult to take positive action. You also create a situation in which people feel buy-in is optional. This leads to resistance that can stall or even sabotage your plans. Reality-Based Leaders are clear that the highest value the talent under their leadership can offer is to implement with excellence. They value action over opinion.
And leaders – you need to model this new behavior and stop colluding with your employees! Sometimes you will be charged with implementing plans that you did not design – plans you might dislike or view as flawed. It will be tempting in those situations to match your effort with your belief, to tell yourself there is no way you can do what is being asked of you, that you wouldn’t even know where to start. But to deliver results time after time, leaders need the ability to resist editorializing and instead move toward implementation with excellence.
If you are not in the position of ultimate decision maker, offer expertise – not editorials. If you are asked your opinion about a potential decision, be proactive. Offer up a variety of ideas to the decision makers, outlining the potential benefits of each course of action along with the corresponding risks, complete with your team’s plan to mitigate the risks of any chosen option. Resist the urge to favor any option as "right." Cherish your neutrality and aim to deliver on any option chosen.
Criticizing any decision made by another level of the leadership team, especially when times are tough, is a cardinal sin. If I can ask your team member what you think about a decision and they can tell me, you have failed them in one of the worst possible ways. If you don’t buy in and offer up your best effort, why should they? They will suffer cognitive dissonance every day as they try to implement a plan you have already told them (whether in so many words or not) isn’t worth their effort.
So, get over it – Google has replaced you in the opinion department! Move on and add value in new ways with action that leads to success, regardless of your circumstances or the merit of the plan.
And remember, you rock and Cy rocks!
Lead on my friend!