Anatomy of a Business Decision

org chartI have been following a petition on change.org about a local healthcare system.  The organization recently announced that they were reducing the shift differential for night shift workers, and because this was eliminating many “grandfathered” agreements, some nurses would experience an annual pay reduction in the five figures.

Twelve days later, there are over 3,500 signers of the petition, along with some extremely nasty comments aimed at the executives who apparently have not experienced the same reduction in pay.  The CEO is a nurse, and many of the comments are bashing her for forgetting who she is, and making decisions for “business” only.

Hmmm.  That comment got me thinking.  What is a business decision?  Intellectually we all understand that businesses have to be cost effective or they will not be around to employ  anyone, much less pay shift differential.  But is a business decision simply a decision about finance?  Is a business decision simply about operations?  Is a business decision simply about marketing?

Or is it fair to say that decisions about people – leaders and employees – are business decisions too.  I don’t just mean the traditional decisions like how much should we pay, or what benefits should we provide.  I mean decisions about the kind of employer that we want to be as a framework about all of the other decisions that we make.

  • How senior leadership builds a relationship with employees is a business decision in my book.  Do they talk TO them, or do they listen to them.  If they listen, do they follow up?  The implications of this decision are far-reaching and point directly to trust in senior leadership.
  • This is clearly a challenge for a large organization, but if the senior leadership cannot interact personally with all of the employees, how are they preparing the mid-level leaders to build trust?  Are they developing true leadership skills that foster trust, and are they building accountability programs to demand leadership excellence?  I see these as clear business decisions.
  • Does the organization treat people fairly and consistently?  Do employees feel like everyone pulls their weight, and managers are skilled at holding people accountable?  Fair and consistent accountability is a business decision with far-reaching implications for productivity.
  • Does the organization have a “brand” for attracting and retaining talent?  Does the organization uphold the promise of the brand?  Cynicism sets in quickly when the words don’t match the actions.
  • Will senior leaders “walk the talk” and share in the ups and downs of the organization?  How do you know all leaders are “walking the talk?”

These are just a few examples of business decisions that are often made by accident, not by design, primarily because organizations don’t think of them as business decisions.  But these are exactly the decisions that impact trust in the organization.

With trust in the organization and leadership, bitter pills are easier to swallow.  I wonder about the level of trust in that healthcare organization before the shift differential cuts were announced.

6 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Business Decision”

  1. Carol, I have also been following the story closely… and the same questions came to mind. WHY do the employees feel the need to organize? WHY are they so frustrated? WHERE is the relationship and the trust between leadership and staff? I can remember the first time I was promoted from a staff nurse to a leadership role. The moment, and I mean the instant, that I stepped into that office with the name on the door … I heard some rumbling. “Has she forgotten her roots?” “She doesn’t remember about being a nurse!”
    It took some time, but soon folks could see that I was for real … and they relationship grew on a different plane. I can only imagine this nurse turned CEO has experienced this!
    But for me, and for my career and family, it has always been and will always be … about the relationship and trust you build with others. Once that relationship and trust is fractured … well …
    This, unfortunately, is going to be an interesting story to follow.

  2. Carol, thanks for this insightful post. My sense is that too many leaders fail to recognize the small decisions that precede the larger decision. This could be the decision about how much time a week the leader spends inside the hospital talking face-to-face with those who will be impacted. It could be a decision about which voices to invite into the conversation as the system evaluates its alternatives. Or, it could be a decision about what information to share with those on the front line about the financial challenges the organization faces. Leaders cannot race through their days believing that these decisions are not important enough to merit attention.

  3. So good to have you comment Richard. I’ve been thinking a lot about HR and “business” – and too often they’re considered oxymorons….we have an opportunity to change that.

  4. Many HR professionals are of the belief that there was once a time for unions but that is not the case anymore. Labor unions were formed because employees felt that they did not have a voice and were being treated unfairly. Union-free organizations may take for granted the effects of financial cuts, labor reduction and decreases in compensation and benefits produce fear and contempt. When employees don’t have a voice and feel powerless, they look to find someone that can make them feel safe. Unfortunately, in the eyes of these 3500+ employees, there is a need for a union.

    I remember years ago when the book Telling Ain’t Training came out. Meetings and counseling were seen by leaders as teaching or learning moments, when in fact they were points in time where something was stated and an employee either grasped the concept quickly or immediately forgot the information only to have the leader say…”I told them the other day in a meeting, they knew what was expected.” Organizations are approaching change and communication initiatives in much the same way. Videos are created, communication plans developed, and checklists are made with much of the same effect. Martha is right. Relationship is the only way to reach people.

    Clear and consistent messaging is necessary from the top down. Employees are watching every move leaders make and are listening closely to every word spoken. The climate is skeptical and cynical to the point that there is no escape for leaders to live life without constant scrutiny. The appearance of classism (leader versus employee) at a time such as this, will only validate negative beliefs.

    It has to be a very difficult position for any leader in this organization. My heart is with them and hope they can turn it around.

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sandra. I agree that all the videos and communication plans in the world don’t build trust. I also agree that it is probably exceptionally difficult for that leadership team right now, and that hopefully the work they are doing will pay off.

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