OK, let’s say someone cuts you in line. Immediately you think they are a fucking asshole. But what if they gave you a context, like “My wife is in labor, but I really need this pretzel. So do you mind if I jump you right quick?” That seems stupid (and is!), but sometimes, context matters. Why do you think I titled this blog the way I did?
And heck, it turns out researchers have done a study on cutting people in line — and if you offer some small context, the person being cut is less pissed off.
What about breakups?
Now let’s talk about a personal life situation. Let’s say you’ve been dating someone seriously and they come to you and say “Hey, we need to break up.” This is a decision that impacts your life, your weekends, your feelings of self-worth, your sex life, etc. It’s impactful to you. You’d want a reason, right?
Seemingly that answer would be “yes.”
When something impacts us, we want to know how and why that thing was arrived at.
Does this happen at work very frequently? No.
Most things are passed down from on-high, especially in organizations with a strong focus on hierarchy.
“We are data-driven, y’all!”
It’s gotten increasingly bad in organizations that claim ad nauseam to be “data-driven” or “data insights-focused.” Oftentimes we know that’s complete bullshit. Guesswork and “gut feel” matter much more internallyto businesses than data does, largely because work is about control and little else.
Now you’ve got stuff like “Oh, well, we made these promotion decisions using data!” (which means you looked at output numbers, which have no correlation with who should be promoted to a leadership role) or “We decided on this course of action, which will completely change your connection to work, without involving you at all!”
Again, go back to the personal vs. professional comparison.
Personal: “Hey, we need to break up. I won’t explain to you how that decision was arrived at, but rest assured stakeholders were consulted.”
If you heard that, the absolute first thing you would think was “Oh, this person is sleeping with someone else. That’s who the other stakeholders are.”
Professional: “Here’s this decision which changes your entire next three months of work. We debated it at the senior level. Now you execute on it.”
Now, now, now … I know. Work is essentially a series of tasks for money. I get that. As a result, when something comes down from on-high, where strategy is supposedly set but never actually is, you need to shift priority and go do the new thing. I get it.
But what if there’s a better way?
Maybe there is
Check this out, from Google’s re:Work site. Here’s an important paragraph:
GAMEL: Context setting is not only relevant to stakeholders working with you, but it is especially important to your employees, your end users who are ultimately impacted by your findings. In an organization, it doesn’t always make sense for everyone to know the details of all parts of the business. It is important, however, that people have insight into the decision-making processes that impact them. What you choose to share and not share with your employees can ultimately influence the way they respond to your programs.
Peeps at Merck
I’d agree with a lot of this. Does everyone need to know about all facets of a decision? Of course not. And it would be impossible, too. That’s not how hierarchy works or how people think about their jobs — and especially not how senior leaders think about their jobs.
But will people give a shit about a program more if it’s handed down with context and rationale?
Now, of course the problem is: context and rationale harm the perch of the executive. After all, if everyone knows the thinking and the rationale, what’s proprietary to the self-worth of the senior leader?
Real answer: their salary.
Short answer: that’s not enough for them.
Can we make this better?
Easily, yea. Well, easily in terms of process.
New ideas/rollouts need:
- An email or message from who decided it
- Reasons why
- Individual managers follow up about how it will impact workflow
- Any data-driven stuff, the data is explained or attached (within reason)
- Let’s see what the data really said
- Background, context, explainers, rationales, and offers to stop by with an “open door policy” to talk it through more
Could this happen in most orgs? No. Because:
- Task work would overcome everything else
- Everyone would want to protect what they know to be relevant
- Communication largely sucks at work anyway
- There’s a belief that junior levels don’t deserve or need to know what’s happening
But could this be a lesson to peeps? Hopefully.