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Stop Playing Nice if it doesn’t Advance the Ball

Somewhere along the way, I think the world-of-work got seriously hoodwinked into believing majority rules when it comes to business. As we got more in tune with each other’s feelings, emotions and pride – as we became concerned about having highly engaged and connected employees – we lost sight of the fundamental premise on which capitalism is built: winning. Now we’re focused on involving everyone in everything…in giving them a voice. And sure enough that ‘voice’ has turned into a ‘vote’ which has turned into an appallingly slow pace of change, risk taking, and decision making.

The amount of time we spend trying to appease everyone “at the table” makes me gag. It’s one thing to gather as much input and feedback as possible. Diverse perspective, after all, creates better answers…we all know this. It’s another thing entirely, though, to try and give equal weight and merit to all of that perspective. Dissent is healthy for business as long as we’re prepared to move past it…even if it means we can’t resolve it. We waste so much damn time glad-handing differences of opinion rather than simply acknowledging them, considering them, and quickly moving on.  And we do this mostly because someone hasn’t (or is afraid to) set the appropriate tone or expectations. Rarely have I been to a meeting where the leader actually opens it by saying something like, “I’ve gathered you here today to gain your perspective on a decision we’re trying to make. Once we’ve heard from you we’ll be making our decision based primarily on what we believe is best for the organization; that decision may or may not directly reflect your input.” What you are more likely to experience is that everyone comes to that meeting thinking they have some license to authorize or approve. And so we go round and round and round; we politic, we boost egos, we give everyone their “day in court”; and all the while we squander time, resources, and momentum.

HR professionals need to help turn the tide on this misguided approach to leadership. Your leaders should understand:

  1. They have the authority and permission to make decisions without the direct involvement of everyone and their mothers. Make those decisions with conviction.
  2. Yours is a profitable venture, not a democracy. ‘Consensus’ – while interesting – is not a requirement. And just to be clear, ‘Consensus’ does not equal ‘Unanimity.’
  3. If they let the opinions of others dictate their decision making process (rather than just influence it) you really don’t need them in the middle of that process…in fact, you probably don’t need them at all.
  4. Sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision, but that’s the price you’ll just have to pay for making lots of right ones.
  5. You won’t always be asked to give your input; sometimes it just doesn’t matter or we already have enough of it… too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the pot.
  6. If you trust others to make decisions, they’ll trust you to do the same.

I’ll play nice as long as it furthers the agenda to which I have been charged. And if there is even the slightest disruption in momentum as a result of trying to be inclusive, I’ll cut you out of the process pronto. I don’t care if you cry foul; it’s the organization you’re hurting…not me.

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  • Lance Haun

    I always thought approaching every decision with the same process is the biggest issue with this kum-ba-ya philosophy. Some decisions require a democratic tone and others require that you and you alone make the decision. And of course people will take it personally but for some (many?) decisions, it’s less important.
    Lance Haun´s last [type] ..Leaving Portland

  • Bernetta Collins

    I do not appreciate posts with foul language. This is supposed to be a publiction for professionals in a professional enviornment….I therefore DO NOT APPREICATE otherwise helpful content with offensive language. Let’s not lessen professional expectations in the workplace by publishing articles containing bad words…and yes…the “d” word is still a BAD word.

  • Stephen Baird

    I really appreciate this article! I also agree with Lance. It’s been a good challenge for me in regards to determining which situations warrant the route of a democractic decision process or the ones that should be made and then communicated afterwards in the best interest of business. I really believe that having employees involved and engaged is key, however, if you get to that paralysis/limbo decision stage, then it’s time to stop and pull the trigger to get things done. Competitiveness in our market requires progress which can take several forms – stalling on a decision is death to a business.
    Stephen Baird´s last [type] ..Trouble Completing Your Great Ideas – Read This!

  • Charlie

    @Lance – that’s a good reminder that this is not an all or nothing proposition; but we need to know where to draw the line and sometimes that’s most difficult part. i think it’s easier to do if the expectations are set up front that the line will in fact be drawn. thanks for the comment.

    @Bernetta – sorry that you don’t like my language (this is tame compared to what usually leaves my lips…fingertips). i will do my best to minimize my potty mouth…when warranted. thank you.

    @Stephen – i always say, “progress for the sake of progress, not perfection.” it would be interesting to map all the projects/initiatives going on in a given organization to see how many of them are in some form of “limbo.” I bet we’d be appalled. if the project is worthy enough to start, it should be worthy enough to finish. thanks for the comment.

  • Joe

    The message is clear: “Don’t stop me winning and getting what I want!” Hardly convinced that the author is genuinely nice even when he tries to.
    Of course, consenus is not the same as unanimity. But it should be something a majority of those who are involved consider to be worth doing.
    A bad decision could lead to irreparable damage. Quality time for an informed deliberation is needed. By the way, a seriously wrong decision is not necessarily the price to pay for making a lot of right ones. One with such a mentality is pretty self-deceiving.
    Suggested reading “Is your boss a psychopath?” at

  • Charlie

    @Joe – thank you for your comments…an interesting perspective. Let me please clarify something for you. This has nothing to do with getting what I want – it’s about empowering leaders to do what they believe is right for the organization without having to traverse the endless and completely unproductive game of trying to get as many people as possible on board. Jack Welch was notorious for making decisions and taking actions that weren’t the most popular (and there are others who followed suit), but he got stuff done, he created a high-performance organization, and he quite literally saved GE from the brink of destruction. He didn’t do that by playing nice, necessarily. He did it by doing what he felt was the best course of action for the company. It is what he was paid to do. I’m just saying we need to empower (good) leaders to do the same thing and that we’ve migrated too far to the other end of the spectrum. Thanks for commenting, though. Love the Fast Company article, by the way.

  • Cyndy Trivella

    Charlie, your post certainly resonates with me. When I think back to all the inane meetings that were downright painful, it makes me think about the inept abilities of so many leaders in the business world. I now refer to those as “meetings for the sake of meeting” a.k.a. paralysis by analysis. I definitely get the impression that people are just scared to step up and make a decision or state a case. Is this what business has turned into? Have we forgotten that this is not a child’s soccer game where everyone is a winner? Yes, sometimes good leaders will have to make the unilateral decision that may not be understood or even perceived as unfair. C’est la vie!

  • chillempress

    This is really great and so true. There’s nice to a point, but not if it is impeding productivity. Encouragement and empowerment are the cornerstones of my management style but yeah, I have to say, I am guilty of being too nice sometimes. I’m reposting this on our Twitter feed @jpatrickjobs

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