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How To Achieve Success On A Thorny Issue Even When It Seems Like You Can’t ‘Win’


At work, you are bound to come across a situation during your career in which you feel that some people will never be satisfied with your decision, no matter what you do. Every decision comes with risk, whether it is a legal, political, reputational, financial, security or competitive risk. To avoid paralysis and overcome the ever-present potential backlash, consider a measured approach. Here are four steps to help you navigate a no-win situation and still feel successful: 

1.     Consider all possible scenarios, and then prioritize what you want to address.

The best way to tackle thorny issues is to attack them logically and comprehensively. Think about all the possible outcomes and risks. Ask yourself, “If I do this, what will be the result?” Then ask yourself, “What else might happen?” 

Navigating risk requires you to recognize as many scenarios as possible and then conduct a cost-benefit analysis to identify a path forward. Ask yourself, “What is most critical to the organization?” Visualize what success means to you, your team and your organization, even if it may not please everyone.

2.     Develop a process to ensure consistency and fairness.

Once you have identified your priorities, put a process in place to achieve your top priority. Identify the steps you and your teammates need to take. Define the operational steps and policies you will adhere to.

Having a process helps you to be consistent and fair. If and when an issue arises, you can use the framework to make a decision on the situation. Your process will ensure you ask the same questions in every instance. While each instance will be unique, how you evaluate each instance should not be unique.

Applying the same process every time will ensure that your personal biases and opinions do not enter the equation. The more objective your approach, the more credible and defensible your decision will be.

3.     Commit to being transparent.

Share as much of your process as possible. (For legal, competitive or security reasons, there may be elements of your process you cannot share publicly.) Share the process with your company, industry or society at large. Be open about your decision-making framework.

Even though others may not like your decision or disagree, they will understand how you arrived at that decision and realize that you used a uniform framework. Controversial or unpopular decisions are criticized because they are hard decisions. Leaders make hard decisions, so use process and transparency as your tools to navigate thorny issues.

4.     Seek feedback from external stakeholders.

Your process can always be improved. Be committed to continuous improvement. Look to industry and academic experts to share their thoughts on your decision-making framework. This will help you to reach better decisions and demonstrate to others that you are committed to making the best decisions possible.

Despite investing in improvements, you may still get backlash for your decisions. Remember: Success is not perfection; success is a work in progress.

Part of becoming a successful professional is having the ability to combat high scrutiny that comes with your work. Brainstorm scenarios, prioritize what you want to achieve, identify a process, be transparent and seek feedback. Put a method to the madness.

What considerations do you take to “win” on a no-win situation? Share with me your stories and thoughts via Twitter or LinkedIn.





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