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October 2017

Divvying Decisions

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Making decisions is always difficult. It’s hard enough when the decision needs to be made by a group of like-minded peers, but the hardest type of decisions to make are those in which there are multiple generations involved in the process. So what do you do?

Bringing out the best in the generations impacting your decisions requires four critical approaches to ensure their decision-making involvement stays on track and is focused on moving to an outcome that matters:

1. Don’t assume everyone has enough insight. Decision-making doesn’t get a participation trophy. Just showing up isn’t enough in today’s fast-paced business environment. Careful consideration of the available decision options is important. Frequently, the assumption is made that everyone at the table has enough insight and information to participate effectively in the process. All too often they don’t.

Make sure your inter-generational team has enough information so they can be more mindful in evaluating your options. Established professionals can get grounded into a black or white point of view that makes them hold fast to historical assessments of potential options. Younger participants can have a limited viewpoint about possible options and consequences. This isn’t because they’re incapable of complex thought; it’s just they often don’t have enough experience to engage in a more nuanced deliberation.

Prepare them for participating in this process. Write up a summary of the critical elements of the issue and why a decision needs to be made. Set the stage at the outset by doing a comprehensive presentation at the first decision-making meeting. Provide them with clarity about how the decision relates to your organizational business strategies.

2. Clarify the decision parameters. Keeping an inter-generational group focused is a challenge. They’ll careen from issue to issue unless you frame things clearly for them. Establish a framework of what must be considered and the boundaries for how far they can go with the decision options. Set limits. If there are budget or staffing limitations, say so.

Make sure to clarify the boundaries of the group’s role in the decision-making process, too. Are they the decision maker, serving in an advisory function to others who’ll decide, or an influencer with critical insight into key decision options? Put this in writing so no one can say later that they misunderstood or didn’t hear you say there were limits to work within.

It’s easy to defer to a group of enthusiastic young professionals, but unless you stay on top of them, they can go way beyond the appropriate parameters. This results in treacherous consequences, both in them going too far and in you dampening their enthusiasm for participating again. Have tons of interim check points and keep redirecting the discussion as needed.

3. Manage the decision discussion. Don’t abandon the team to work without you. You don’t have to be there for every conversation, but you still need to manage the discussion. Most importantly, encourage candid dialogue. Clarify the stakes, the information you need and begin discussing decision parameters. Have them walk through the outcomes of the options under consideration. Challenge them to ask if there’s an element of this option that could be combined with something already reviewed to make a stronger option.

Approach this respectfully. Carefully manage how the group communicates so those with strong voices don’t drown out innovative ideas from the more introverted participants who may lack confidence in speaking up in the group. If you get each of your participants deeply involved in the discussion, they’ll develop mutual respect and learn from each other. This enhances inter-generational communication and encourages a more collaborative decision dialogue.

4. Manage expectations. Temper how much influence inter-generational teams have on the decision-making process. Will they get a vote in the decision or an opportunity to influence how you decide? Carefully managing expectations at the front end helps manage angst at the back end if you’re the final decider. Make sure you develop feedback loops and mechanisms for follow-up. You’ll lose younger team members if they don’t get periodic follow-up on the decision outcome. Continue to involve the team in reviewing the progress of the decision implementation.

Inter-generational groups offer significant ideas beyond options you initially considered. They can also find unexpected approaches linking possibilities in powerful and unexpected ways that may create amazing results. If you effectively manage them, you’ll create a team dynamic that’s powerfully focused on resolving issues. What are the ways you can strengthen your inter-generational decision-making to get better results?

Jill Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services.

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