Helping Your People Make Great Decisions

August 4, 2022 Britney Cole

One of my favorite nonfiction reads is Nudge, which posits that although we think we are making rational choices, we are actually irrational beings making irrational ones. Left to our own devices, we may not make the smartest decisions or ones that advance our self-interest.

A corporate 401K plan is a good example of this. If you give people the option to opt in, far fewer will enroll. If you automatically sign up people and give them the option to opt out, most will take advantage of the plan.

Learning management systems (LMS) are another example I can speak to from first-hand experience. L&D professionals often think all they need is an LMS platform prepopulated with a content library. People will then search for what they need. The reality more often is that people don't know how to find a certain asset or even if the asset exists. Curating learning paths targeted to needs based on tenure or role has a much larger likelihood of employees engaging with the content.  Sometimes less is more.

These examples hold valuable lessons for leaders as you help nudge and foster good decision making among your people. Let’s take a look.

Give Autonomy with Guardrails

Our research shows that autonomy is one of the 12 factors that contribute to employee work passion. But giving autonomy carte blanche can wreak havoc, especially if the individual isn’t competent or committed to the goal or task at hand. Although giving clear direction is appropriate when someone is new, you can still provide some opportunities for choice within that direction, such as letting them decide when to complete the task or which template they prefer to use. The same goes for people who are your highest performers. You may want those individuals to take on new challenges, but a challenge offered with no boundaries may not align with your team’s or organization’s priorities. On the other hand, if you present the challenge as a business need that is relevant to the individual and allow them to work autonomously to complete it, you’ll have a motivated employee working on something that will drive the business forward. Think of it like a prix fixe restaurant menu. They are selecting a meal from a limited menu, but you're still giving them a personalized meal.

Stop Choice Overload

How information is presented affects how we decide. Astute leaders can take advantage of this to help their people make decisions that benefit themselves, the team, and the organization.

To set context, researchers have identified choice overload as a problem vexing consumers. In fact, too many choices lead consumers to become frustrated and often regretful. Research shows again and again that more isn’t always better. Leaders who bring this strategy to the workplace can expect real results.

When assigning a task, the best practice is to give people two or three choices when they are looking for information. Aimless searching will produce meager results and lots of exasperation. Once people become more confident, they can find what they need without as much prompting.

Sending a short list of pre-reads, offering to create connections with experts, and recommending a few networks for them to join are a few ways to reduce choice overload while fostering good decision making on the part of the employee.

Be a Role Model

We don't always make the best decisions for ourselves. I know I should eat healthy. So why did I just eat three donuts? Not eating them or eating just one would have been the better decision. This mental quirk in our behavior can be used to help people.

We know junior people in the workplace imitate the behaviors of senior people. So be a role model. For instance, take more vacation than you usually do. This way your people will see that it's fine to go on vacation, even if it’s a staycation.

Here is another example. Don't respond to emails when you are on vacation or during off hours. Model the behavior you want to see from others when they are taking time off. If you must e-mail your people, make it clear they don't have to respond immediately—or, even better, let them know when you would like a reply.

Chart Career Growth

When people think of career growth, they often imagine a linear progression. For example, you progress from manager, to director, to vice president. Salary increases and more responsibility come along with the titles. But what about the value of experiences and growth? These typically don't figure into the equation.

Leaders need to think about how they can help their employees grow on a regular basis, not just when a promotion is available. Don’t underestimate your influence in generating excitement from people by providing support to help their career plans. In fact, managers have oversized influence inspiring their employees to learn something.

The leader-employee relationship is an important one. A good leader will help their people make the right decisions until they have the experience and skills to make good choices for themselves and for others.

About the Author

Britney Cole

Britney Cole is Head of the Blanchard Innovation Lab at The Ken Blanchard Companies®. With more than 15 years’ experience in organization development, performance improvement, and corporate training across all roles, Britney brings a pragmatic and diverse perspective to the way people prefer to learn on the job.

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