It’s quite fascinating to read the news and see story after story that follows much the same arc: A group is furious about the outcome of some decision and as a result spares no effort in blaming the process that led to it. Then, if the process is defended and shown to have been fair and robust, they turn their attention to the people involved. Clearly there must have been a vested interest at play and the process was a sham – the decision was already made.
Now, I’m sure in some cases that may be true. However, what I think it points to more frequently is that people don’t take the opportunities given to them to be engaged in the process in the first place. If – and when – the outcome is not to their liking, suddenly there’s time to raise the alarms, alert the media, and call motives into question and demand a delay.
Of course, change management is all about this dynamic. Trying to find the balance between not enough engagement versus too much engagement is tough. Top-down unilateral decisions aren’t typically well-regarded by those affected, though they do have momentum in their favour for better or worse. Bottom-up consensus decisions are usually fairly robust but they can certainly chew up time and cost getting there. Sometimes nothing even gets done at all when the process collapses under its own weight, trying to involve everybody and their dog.
To remedy this, using frank communications and strong agenda management provides the foundation for setting things up for success: the process, the opportunities for involvement, and how decision-making will be done, by whom, when. Using tools such as the various flavours of media help plus word of mouth and informal networks optimizes involvement and prevents people from claiming they didn’t know about the process. Setting out the process and using good old Roberts Rules – even if simplified – to both encourage and manage discussion ensures that meetings don’t just degenerate into wandering conversations. The word “motion” is there for a reason…
Make sure that people know ahead of time that a decision is going to be made and that they should attend the meeting or vote online or whatever, if they so choose, and then get on with things.
Now in the end, mistakes may be made; reserve the right to be wrong. But don’t let “outcomes” evaporate due to sloppy process and people.