How to Make Human-Centred Decisions Under Pressure (Part 4)
Picture this. You are working alone in your house, and an email comes in. You immediately start writing a response. Suddenly, you hear the baby crying. Remember, you are alone in the house. Before you've had a chance to do anything, the bell rings. You are almost finished with your email. Which one will you tend to first: the email, the baby, or the door?
Now you are in your office having a meeting with HR about a possible pandemic. The government has suggested working from home as soon as possible. You're supposed to have a public marketing event this weekend. Money has been spent for this event, contracts has been set. We don’t even know how bad this possible pandemic will be, everything is all hypothetical at this point. Some staff are concerned, some are not, and we don't know if the public is worried. What would be your first course of action?
In this final piece of the series on human-centred leadership, we look at how a human-centred leader makes decisions, especially in times of crisis. Anyone can take action, and most people can make sound decisions. Leaders, however, often have to make difficult decisions under great pressure: limitations on time or information, and potentially all possible outcomes leading to negative implications. And, it is always a choice that involves and impacts other people.
How does a human-centred leader approach these decisions?
1. With clear communication that builds trust. As the CEO story in the second article of this series illustrates, explaining a tough decision to the team is a process as crucial as making that decision. Leaders need to lay out the context, instil trust in the company, and affirm long-term purpose.
When management is open and honest about major decisions, people will feel less threatened or skeptical by the change.
Brian Chesky from AirBnB did just this when announcing the company downsizing last year. His e-mail was widely circulated and appreciated for its compassionate tone. At the same time, it was also highly practical with next steps spelt out.
2. As learning opportunities. Human-centred leaders involve and engage others in the decision-making and implementation process because they recognize the potential learning gained from the team witnessing a change in motion. When the dust has settled, conduct After Action Reviews to really bring out the lessons learned. What did the team observe? Would they have taken the same decisions? How would they apply their judgment? Prepare your team for the inevitable future when they will have to make these tough choices.
3. With compassion as a base. Human-centred leaders tap into deeply human values and use them as the heart behind actions and decisions. The science behind compassion typically divides the idea into three stages: noticing, feeling, and responding. In organizations, the stages happen in a collective manner: noticing together, feeling together, and responding together. What we notice is other people’s pain. What we feel is empathy. And how we respond, that is how compassion becomes practices. We have talked more about core values in the second article of this series.
More people and organisations are seeing the importance of humanising the workplace. A pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the current mental health crisis from burnouts and depression. Innovations in AI technology is revealing and redefining the kind of work that “only humans can do.” Yet, there remains a big gap between appreciating human-centred values, to actually practising them. As we come to the end of this series on Human-centred Leadership, it is our hope that this series helps close that gap, by outlining ways to awaken the human elements of business challenges.
Perhaps you are still unsure where to begin opening the conversation in your organisation. Perhaps it seems impossible to change the culture. Don't be afraid to start small. You might start by asking each other: What was the toughest decision you had to take during COVID-19? How do you think those decisions were received? Every individual has likely seen a human-centred leader in action. Exchange those stories: Was there a time when you saw a leader’s action or decision and thought this person put people first?
In a time where there is no longer a boundary between our work and home selves, leaders need to encourage their team to bring their authentic selves into work. Open up conversations about mental health. Share your struggles. Invite healthy candour into Zoom meetings. Most importantly: evolve, and move forward with empathy.
Click here for Part 1: Psychological Safety is Crucial to Human-Centred Leadership
Click here for Part 2: The 3 Purposes of Human-Centred Leadership
Click here for Part 3: Coaching Your People: A Key Practice to be a Human-Centred Leader