Lately, we’re coaching many leaders who are struggling with questions surrounding the great Return to Work.
Is it time to bring people back to the office? Should we allow fully remote work to continue? Do we need to come up with some sort of hybrid?
Leaders we coach are scared because they don't know the answers. They have some data, but they don't know.
We empathize with those of you who are making these decisions. It can feel stressful to navigate so much uncertainty.
That said, we believe a lot of unnecessary drama around decisions happens because leaders aren’t clear or candid about what decision rights they’re using.
It’s crucial to know the difference between an edict, an agreement, and a request — and to clarify which one is being used for each decision.
This is the quickest option. It also tends to create the least buy-in. It’s when the leader decides what is going to happen — perhaps with input — and lets the team know the non-negotiable decision.
Example: “I expect everyone to come back to work four out of five days. It’s not negotiable; it’s a condition you need to follow if you want to continue working here.”
An agreement is multi-directional. All parties tune into their needs, clarify what they want, and define who, will do, what by when to create the desired outcomes. An agreement means all parties get to have say as to whether they want to participate, and how.
Example: “I'd like to make an agreement with you on the hours that we’re both going to be physically in the office every week.”
A request is defining your preferences and asking them to be considered as people make decisions. You are not taking a hard stand and are trusting that the other will make a decision they believe serves the situation.
Requests do not have to be honored. A lot of teams create drama because they made a request and assumed everybody would honor it, instead of entering into an agreement.
Example: “My request is that you be in the office three days a week.”
Often, drama ensues because leaders aren’t willing to be honest (with themselves and their team) that they’re making an edict.
Here’s a common pattern: The leader asks for input from the team on their decision. They find most people want something different than what the leader senses is best for the organization. When they announce their final decision, team members get angry, feeling like their voice was ignored. “You asked me and acted like I got a say. But now you're going to pull it away and tell me what to do?”
Telling people they have a choice when really they don't isn't fun for anybody. Yet we see leaders try to hide under a false pretense of making agreements. They tell themselves a story that “being more collaborative” and “giving people a choice” is the better way to go.
We ask leaders to consider that the opposite of that story might be equally as true.
We believe that in a healthy system, the role of the conscious leader is to look for a win for all. Sometimes, in doing that, it becomes clear that delivering an edict is the best path. When that’s the case, you're asking for the trust of your team that your edict is in service of the win for all.
There is no right choice amidst the various decision rights. You just choose the one that you believe will most support a thoughtful decision.
If you find that an edict about returning to work (or any other decision) is the right way to go, follow these steps to avoid unnecessary drama with your team.
Make sure you’re not righteous about your opinions; that you’re willing to feel all your feelings and let everyone feel theirs as you consider the decision; and that you’re willing to take your 100% responsibility for the results, no more, no less.
When you’re making a decision from an open, curious place that’s not righteous, people can sense your decision doesn't come from a contracted, defensive place. Instead, they feel you’re honoring a Whole Body Yes.
One way to practice this is to argue all sides of the issue equally — like you're convincing a jury to agree with you. By arguing all sides as equally valuable, you can trust that your decision comes from wonder.
If you decide an edict is what’s called for, be clear with your team. For example, “I'm asking for your input, but I get final say. I’m going to need everyone to honor and respect what I decide.”
Or: “I’ve already made up my mind. I’m not available for input on this decision.”
If you’re making an edict, know that your team will likely have emotions come up around the issue. Commitment 3 of the 15 Commitments is about allowing yourself and others to feel feelings all the way to completion. We recommend you consciously make space for those feelings.
For example, invite everybody to have a temper tantrum. “We're going to have a collective temper tantrum about the fact that you're going to have to come back three days a week.”
Or invite the team to feel their sadness or loss about the change to a lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.
People don't have to be happy about your decision, and can still have a yes to coming to work.
If you’re a team member on the receiving end of an edict, your job is to recognize you’re not the victim of that decision.
That might sound like, “I have choice. If I don't like the decision, I have the power to go find another job. So therefore, I'm not at the effect of this decision. If I agree to the decision, it's my choice.”
Or: “I don't have to like this. And I'm still choosing to come to work because I'm in devotion to my role.”