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Have you ever heard of the north-star?
It's present in the northern hemisphere's sky and was the traditional way sailors aligned their course corrections at night-time. Your company's leadership provides your north-star (values and objectives) to aid decision-making.
Mid-level managers need to learn to balance back pressure feedback from the teams while implementing the forward direction from the leadership team.
In order to explain how to utilize decision-making through values, I am going to return to principles - the foundations of value-based decisions by creating a shared understanding of personal values, integrity, and ethics. Then I will explain how to combine them with your senior leadership direction and company values.
Honesty, loyalty, efficiency, fairness, openness, optimism, hospitality, etc. If you are self-aware, you will recognize these values and acknowledge that you are giving stronger weightage to some over others to guide your actions under different circumstances.
If you have not consciously thought of your personal values up until now, do not be concerned, you are already using them. Instead, examine some of your recent decisions. A simple example would be your last couple of purchases. Did you check if it's recyclable, free trade, etc.? When you parked your car, did you choose to use the parent and child spaces? These are examples of using personal values in your decision-making.
Personal integrity is doing what is right even when no one is looking, and doing what is right even when under pressure. This is the product of your personal values. It's sometimes easier to understand by providing a strong contra example, as doing the right thing for most people is so ingrained as to be unnoticed.
If someone's personal value is selfishness/dishonesty, they make poor ethical decisions that benefit themselves over others. This is evident when people are doing what they want, even if it negatively impacts other people. A specific example of a low level of integrity would be manipulating performance figures to get a bonus. This occurs when a person doesn't hold honesty as a high personal value.
To use values in decision-making requires developing a strong sense of self-awareness and self-confidence.
Self-awareness happens over time and only with intention. Reflect on your decision-making inputs to understand your own values in action. Learn to accept those values as part of your personal growth journey.
If your reflection identifies areas to improve, that's great! Start working on them and you will become a better decision-maker.
Self-confidence is being positive, organized, goal orientated, and using assertive language. You are capable of asking questions, stating when you do not know the answer or when you got something wrong. You are sufficiently confident in yourself to assert the values even under pressure.
The company values will guide your decisions in conflicting situations, in conjunction with your upper managers' short and long-term objectives.
Place the company values and department objectives in front of you on your screen/desk. Step back into the abstract and make the decision using them, validate your final decision against these values rather than your own personal values. If you are in a company that doesn't seem to run by its values, then still use the stated company values.
Lead by example!
The scope of your project has had a sudden increase, but the delivery date hasn't moved. You have the choice of pushing on and squeezing the team for a bit of free overtime; you may even benefit by receiving extra recognition for leading successfully through a stormy sea situation. Instead, look through the lens of your company values (let's say employee wellbeing is on the list), then you need to bring strong influence based on the wellbeing value and negotiate a new deadline or reduced delivery scope with upper management. This demonstrates strong leadership incorporating the company values. Caveat: Every business situation is unique. Your role is to find a way forward within the bounds of the values.
Example of cross-team dependency pressure. Your team has committed to deliver on a project milestone, but another team has a commitment that depends on critical people within your team. Let us make it even more real; you are unable to change resources, time, or scope. This isn't that uncommon a situation for shared service teams to encounter. The choice here is known as Sophie's choice - all are terrible based upon the theoretical company values (employee, customer, and profit).
This is where using values as your north-star can assist when faced with only poor choices. Your leadership team has stated its priorities. They are not to be ignored nor blindly followed. I recommend this situation. You do not attempt to make the decision at your level, instead request the other team to escalate the situation upwards to a shared management level and have a negotiation at that level so that a new acceptable option emerges.
A little bit more explanation around why you should not own the issue. In this scenario, it's the other team that needs to change the situation, or they will miss their delivery date, so it's their responsibility to escalate; not every problem laid at your door is for you to solve. You should hold your teams' commitment to your own manager's direction unless they release you from them.
There are other scenarios where multiple company values may seem to be in conflict - profit vs. employee wellbeing. It's your role to negotiate the way forward that achieves the correct balance and avoids the extremes.
It's important for every employee that company values are not just words on a poster; they are manifested through daily actions, and open conversations about values happen. Find the components that make up your north star, live your values every day, and when a crisis occurs, you will be able to navigate with calm, resiliency, and purpose. Never forget where you come from to maintain your empathy and humility.
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