Recently I was on site with senior leads from a national not for profit entity, for a multi-day event. Two of the key figures that were there included the Board Chair, and the National Director (executive lead). There is an interesting scenario that unfolded, that went something like this:
Through the course of a range of activities, I happened to be approached by another official who presented me with a situation for which he wanted to be granted an exception to policy. Of course I informed this individual that the decision was not mine to make (I am just a consultant). I informed the official that I would discuss with the National Director to give her a heads up, since I would be speaking with her in just a few minutes. I did just that – mentioned it to the National Director, who said she wanted to defer the decision to the Board Chair.
Naturally, the next step I undertook was to speak with the Board Chair, whom I happened to connect with in person, just about an hour later. He gave me his perspective, which was that there would not be an exception made, based on the information at hand, but that the situation could be monitored and a possible exception considered at a later date. He asked me to do him the favor of going back to the official who originally made the request, to pass on the decision. I did this, informing the official that no exception would be made at this time.
Within the hour I happened to again be in close proximity to the National Director, and so I wanted to undertake to provide her with the decision – and as I approached her, she was just entering a conversation with the official and let him know she would approve the exception – this, after I had informed the official that the response was no. What a scenario this ended up being – here I was, the outside consultant attempting to help bring clarity even though not my decision, and what I found was a major lack of alignment.
This was excellent information and intelligence for me, as I have been coaching and consulting to this entity’s Board Chair and National Director for several months. I now had firsthand experience with a scenario in which they two of them were not aligned when a senior official needed them to be aligned. It made them look uncoordinated and unsure regarding decision making, relative roles and responsibilities and their communication rhythms during a critical decision. The National Director had two hours earlier deferred the decision, and then went ahead and made the decision.
To be clear, we were not talking about something that is going to have a long term negative impact in terms of the actual decision point, but what we are talking about is that an official within now knows that the Board Chair and National Director are not well aligned, and that the Director after deferring the decision was able to be pressed for a decision that did not agree with the Chair’s decision, after she said she would defer to him. At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with the decision itself or whether it was right or wrong, but has everything to do with lack of coordination and alignment.
Cameron’s Call to Action
- Consider your internal alignment with your senior leaders – are you clear regarding relative roles and responsibilities, including decision making? If there is confusion, you need to get clarity amongst yourselves. The only way to be absolutely clear is to be absolutely clear! And write it down so it’s not forgotten.
- Discuss and develop ways to remain connected on key critical decision points where you know service users or senior officials could be approaching more than one of you at a time on an issue, especially if they don’t get the response they want in the first instance. Make a commitment to check in with each other to ensure you are not tripping over each other.
- If and when you do err in your clarity (this happens), leading to confusion for another official, stakeholder or service user, go back and debrief and clarify quickly with that individual who they approach for what and when. Also instruct them on what to do if you and another senior lead whose responsibilities and decision making authorities overlap, and they get two different responses from you.
- Remember, being misaligned not only negatively impacts functioning and efficiency, but makes you look incompetent, and when you lose credibility with your team, you have an uphill climb that was not necessary in the first place.