Two simple principles!

“We know it has to be done, but it’s hard to do so without it being perceived as personal!” said Jess.

Do you occasionally face a similar situation?

In Jess’ case, it was just a simple thing: removing a former member of the team from the team’s chat group. But it was hard because they had a good relationship with the former team member.

Eventually, they created a new chat group (sans the former team member) and used it in place of the old one. I suspect it might have been easier if they didn’t have a good relationship with the former team member.

This “difficulty” shows up in other situation too, for example:

  • Starting the meeting on-time when one of the key participants has yet to arrive,
  • Getting someone to start or stop doing something,
  • Calling out someone for unacceptable behaviour.


We don’t want to offend another person, and much less wanting the other person to think that it’s personal. We don’t want to be the bad guy!

Yet by not acting, we allow the team’s interaction, perhaps even effectiveness, be compromised.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. There is an easy way!


An easy way to make a hard decision

If you think about it, we make hard decisions (and execute them) all the time. We hired, fired (ok, maybe this is hard for some people), made hard-nosed financial decisions, invested, killed projects, and more.

When having to make a decision that would affect another person (especially someone we have a good relationship with), though, we somehow find it challenging to do so. We are afraid that the other person takes it personally, and we feel bad about having to do it.

Most organisations have an effective instrument that helps leaders make some of the hard decisions: policies!

Policies (administrative policies, HR policies, etc.) are principles and guidelines to help in decision making so that an organisation may be efficient and consistent (among other things) in its operation.

There are at least two reasons policies help leaders in making hard decisions, even the subjective ones or those affecting another person:

  1. Those who crafted the policies already made the decision outside the context of a specific person or situation. It’s not specifically targeting a person, and therefore it’s not personal.
  2. Policies communicate expectations, so people know what will happen. There is no ambiguity.


I’m not saying we need to encapsulate everything we do within policies. That would be an overkill.

We could employ the two principles mentioned above, though.


1. Make the decision in advance.

Plan ahead. Anticipate what might happen and decide on the expectations and/or course of action.

Leaders can make this decision in consultation with their teams, to facilitate buy-in from team members. Having everyone on the team agreeing to a decision or course of action would make it easier to execute when the need arises.

In Jess’ case, now that they have a new chat group, they could agree as a team that whoever leaves the team should leave the group within a certain number of days, or get removed from the group after that.

A team could agree together that meetings will always start on time, no matter what happens. And if someone is late for a meeting, he/she knows it’s not personal.

“Making a decision in advance, outside the context of a specific person or situation, makes it easier to execute when the need arises.”


2. Communicate Expectations.

Having made the decisions, leaders need to communicate those decisions and expectations.

A written set of norms is an excellent way of communicating such expectations. Of course, leaders have to highlight the norms to their team every now and then, so that everyone knows what’s expected of them.


Taking the “Person” out of “Personal”

By making decisions in advance and communicating those decisions, I have found it easier to act when the situation arises. No more “I feel bad that I have to do this to you” because it’s now an expected course of action.

For this to work well, however, we have to not allow any exceptions. Otherwise, it becomes “situational” and, therefore, “personal” again.


What about you?

What are some areas of your team’s life that might benefit from this way of doing things?

What other ways can you think of that might help make hard decisions easier?


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