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Election Day: Democratic Decision-Making for Contact Centers | #ICMIchat Rundown (November 3, 2020)

Despite our best efforts, not all contests result in a win-win scenario. It's not always practical for everyone to have it their way, and it's never easy to accept the outcome of decisions that don't favor our side. This is as true for business as it is in politics, but we tend to make these decisions in different ways. In this Election Day special, #ICMIchat explores how and why to apply democratic decision-making in the workplace to make hard decisions for your business.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Check out next week's discussion and join the conversation on Twitter!

Democracy & Business

Allowing employees to vote on decisions that personally affect them is a simple way to ensure everyone feels involved. Some businesses are known for their participatory leadership culture, while others are known for decisive action coming from the top. Each organization and each decision are different, and the decision-making process that works well in one instance might not work well in another.

Yes, democratic decision-making has a role in business if and when all "voters" are equally informed AND able to influence a course correction if the vote by the electorate backfires. If not, the biz shouldn't vote democratically.

It is important for everyone to be heard, valued, and their input considered. Actual voting? Depends on the culture and situation. [Zappos] is unique and decision making is largely done by the work groups and not by a "boss".

When Voting Works

Most employees simply don't care about business minutiae, and forcing them to make decisions on every little thing can make changes slow and painful. Conversely, some decisions have a broad impact across an organization, and employees will feel slighted if not consulted on the choices. Leaders must identify and carefully weigh the costs and benefits of democratizing decision-making.

Anything that affects front facing employees morale wise or socially speaking. One center I worked at banned coffee and all liquids from the call floor because they put new carpet down. Not at all well received and quickly rescinded.

Broad decisions that don’t need specific or nuanced context, decisions that can be reversed/changed without much damage or cost. Those are ideal for a democratic approach! People love being a part of such decisions even if they didn’t pick the winning option!

Few to none. I am not in favor of giving all members of a company a vote in everything. Opinions can and should be solicited and heard, yes. But all things open for a vote, Not, not as a default policy.

All In Agreement

Managing conflict is an essential leadership skill, yet many dread the thought of justifying tough choices to their employees. Voting is one tactic for leaders to avoid some of the blame and resentment that comes with a difficult decision; attempting to reach consensus is another. However, unanimity isn't always attainable, and the show must go on regardless. Don't allow minor nonconcurrence to stand in the way of achievement.

Unanimity doesn't scale.

Hearing the opinion of those who differ is important, but the majority vote wins. Unanimity is not the goal, a smart business decision is.

Dissenting Opinions

Diverse and transparent teams will find themselves with plenty of opposing ideas; debate is a good thing! However, when the majority of a team leans in one direction, it can discourage the minority from sharing their counter-argument. Groupthink leads to dangerous assumptions and omissions that can hinder success. Great leaders actively encourage critical discussions to determine the best courses of action for their organization.

QUI QUOTES: "We seldom learn much from someone with whom we agree.” —Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." —General George Patton

If leaders only listen to those who parrot their beliefs, one of them is not needed. Creativity and perspective are born from different, diverse, dissenting opinions. They must be sought out, encouraged, and celebrated. They will often drive a better solution.

It's said that the higher up in an organization you advance, the harder it is to get frank feedback - so it's important to demonstrate that dissenting opinions won't be punished. Ask "What am I missing? What am I wrong about on this? What's the potential downside?"

When Democracy Doesn't Work

Although there are many advantages to using a democratic decision-making process in the workplace, it's not without its flaws. Not everyone has access to accurate information about every issue, and some participating employees have more direct experience with some types of decisions than others. It takes time to deliberate and consider alternatives, which takes time away from other productive tasks. Finally, attempting to compress too many broad interests into one decision may lead to solutions that are overcomplicated or not narrowly focused on the problem at hand.

Definitely, as these decisions risk being made on what is easy and popular. Business acumen is key when certain decisions need to be made. That sounds harsh but, I've found it to be true.

The challenge in voting in business is the ability to find a balance between trust and risk. I inherited a team that used a 3 part form for time off. I offered them for us to craft criteria for time off and self-approve. They voted, we adopted the new process, Yay!

Executive Decisions

For decisions that must be made quickly or don't significantly impact many employees, it's often necessary for management to make an executive decision. Although the choice may come from the top down, that doesn't mean that leaders can't or shouldn't solicit opinions from their stakeholders. There are various options for gathering this information, whether through town halls or close surveys.

If "autocratically" just means "without a company-wide vote", then for most organizations of any size, unless they've built a culture of voting on most major decisions, my answer would be "Nearly all". But lack of voting doesn't mean lack of consultation.

Core business decisions must ideally be made by leadership. Broad cultural decisions can be democratic. There’s a reason the ship has a captain. And it’s in the captain’s interest to avoid mutiny or abandonment. That balance is important!

The Best of Bad Choices

When hard decisions must be made unilaterally, there will obviously be some unhappy with the choice. In 2020, organizations were forced into hard choices with a broad impact on employees and customers, and the options were often less than ideal. Leaders must be prepared to make tough calls to get their organization through tough times.

Leaders may make unpopular to save the business, comply with regulators, follow the law, self-serve... many good and bad reasons. Whatever the reason, they must communicate, defend, and vindicate their decisions to keep morale and energy up and move forward.

Two words: The pandemic. The toughest decisions I've had to make in my career that affected individuals and their families.

Coping With Unpopular Decisions

By approaching unpopular courses of action with compassion, transparency, and open communication, leaders can lessen, although not eliminate, the blow to morale. Given enough information, most employees will understand the hard choice that must be made for the organization's benefit as a whole. Without insight into the decision-making process, employees may be left wondering if all alternatives were considered honestly.

With compassion. Don't just play up the benefits of the decision, acknowledge the downsides, and realistically lay out what the alternatives were, including upsides and downsides, and explain why you chose the direction you did.

Bad news requires great integrity, clarity, and humility. People can take bad news if they understand the background, the "why", and the path forward. People can rise and succeed with tough truth that preserves the trust much better than with bovine fecal matter.

In clear, respectable terms. Everything else eventually becomes a worse option. It helps when they present the logical path they followed to make the decision, and their rationale for the same. People may disagree but will respect that gesture.

With compassion. Full stop.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Check out next week's discussion and join the conversation on Twitter!

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