HBR: How to handle second-guessers

Create detailed plans, include important stakeholders

Reaching a decision is hard enough. It's even harder when a stakeholder decides to question your plan after the decision is set in stone.

Authors Robert Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene describe in Harvard Business Review the three most common ways that colleagues question your decisions—and how you can ensure your plan sticks. 

Wanting to re-open the discussion. If stakeholders feel they weren't consulted on an important decision, they may insist on giving feedback even after a discussion is closed. 

The best way to handle this problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place: Always ensure the right people are involved in the decision. That doesn't mean the entire firm has to be in the room, but include the important stakeholders. Then, if colleagues say they should have been included, you can explain why they weren't involved—and that you're confident that the participants came to the right conclusion.

How to foster conflict—the right kind—on your team

Speaking up after the decision is made. Sometimes, even colleagues who had ample opportunity to express dissent will raise objections only after a decision is finalized. They may be senior stakeholders who didn't want to dampen enthusiasm early on, or junior team members who weren't confident enough to speak up in the moment. Now, this person is explaining to you—too late—all of the problems with your plan.

The best approach? Make clear at the start of the decision-making process that silence will be considered agreement. All participants will have an opportunity to give their opinion, and if they don't speak out against something, it's implied they support it. Explaining that ground rule in advance can minimize concerns after the fact. 

Changing their mind—and the plan.Sometimes, the people in charge of executing your plan may seem to agree with you upfront, only to then do something entirely different. "The team then takes the liberty of making some changes in implementation, effectively altering the decision, with or without the knowledge of those who made it," the Review authors explain.

The best way to prevent this is to create a detailed action plan. You should include dates when certain milestones should be accomplished, along with scheduled check-ins to ensure that everything is on track. In this way, you can identify the person responsible for any changes to the plan and explain why the original decision needs to be implemented (Galford et al., Harvard Business Review, 2/25). 

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