“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Early on in my business analysis career, I had to take on a piece of work for a client which was a feasibility study in the effectiveness and efficiency of outsourcing roles to an offshore support facility. At the time, I had just rolled off a successful project implementing a major operating system upgrade at said client and had garnered a reputation for being a sharp – if inexperienced – business analyst whose career seemed to be on an upwards trajectory. Still feeling on top of the world after safely landing a large and complex project, I leapt into the new challenge earnestly without fully considering the implications of what was being asked of me.
Outsourcing is a sensitive and emotive subject, and has a significant impact on the lives and careers of not only those directly impacted, but on their families too. Being told that the role you might have been in for 10-20 years was potentially being taken away from you and shipped abroad or replaced by machines must be frightening, but I’m ashamed to say that I was ignorant of how those in scope might have been feeling. The project manager at the time was fortunately more prescient of the situation and gave me a clear instruction to spend as much time on the ground with the workers to show a visible presence for the project and importantly, to pick up on any rumours circulating and nip them in the bud as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the PM’s advice straightaway and stayed in my office, knowing that I was comfortably isolated from the potentially difficult and challenging interactions I was likely to face. However, in the two days that I didn’t sit in the department, rumours spread and multiplied like wildfire, and the truth of the situation – which was that a small number of roles being outsourced with those affected redeployed into new roles – was lost as gossip spread that the entire department was being scrapped and dozens of workers would lose their jobs. This was a disaster which was entirely avoidable, had I made the decision to face up to the discomfort of putting myself in the firing line and dealing with the team head on. The PM had to deal with a very complex and serious stakeholder issue which they had attempted to mitigate early on and was compromised by my inaction, ignorance and – let me be honest here – cowardice.
A lot of flak came my way and honestly, I deserved it every bit of it.
My arrogance was skewered in the most humiliating way as I received a severe dressing down from the PM and my line manager, and I felt ashamed that I had made so many people feel so uncertain about their jobs, families and personal lives because I didn’t choose the hard option – in fact I didn’t choose any action at all.
After feeling sorry for myself, my mentor and good friend told me to get over myself and face up to the situation before it got any worse. I apologised to the PM and the Department Head, who was now having to placate their increasingly irate and unhappy workers and head off the damage being caused by the rumours spreading unchecked. I went down to the department and called a meeting with the team impacted and explained what was actually happening through the outsourcing process and how their jobs were changing as opposed to being lost. Almost immediately, the rumours stopped and the unhappiness and uncertainty was lessened. I made sure that I spent as much time on the floor with the team as possible and answered their questions as best as I could. I realised that though the situation initially seemed difficult and challenging, facing up to it head on was vastly better than trying to bury my head in the sand and hoping that things would work themselves out eventually.
I learned a lot through that situation and though I’ve made plenty of mistakes since then, I’ve always kept those hard-won lessons to mind.
Some key takeaways to consider:
- Some situations may be difficult, but not dealing with them head on almost always makes life more difficult for you.
- Follow guidance and advice, especially when you don’t know the full implications of a given situation.
- Know your stakeholders and keep them onside as best as you can.
- Arrogance and confidence are not the same thing.
- Your actions and decisions often affect more than just yourself – be mindful of those ‘downstream’ who are impacted by your choices.
- Rumours and gossip are easily started and easily spread, but are not easily dealt with. Keep the genie in its bottle.
- Have the courage to ‘fail early’ with your stakeholders if you know that there is going to be some pain resulting from a decision or action you need to take.
Big decisions in work and in life are often difficult to face up to and take, but we have to plan for and be willing to accept the outcome of those decisions if we are to move forward. Failing to act can often lead us into situations we aren’t prepared for, and even though it may seem comfortable at the time, that sense of comfort can disappear in an instant.
Maybe you’re avoiding having to deal with a complex situation at work, or facing up to a challenging colleague or stakeholder. It could be deciding to remain in a particular role because its easy, instead of pushing for a more challenging but ultimately more rewarding one. It might even be having to decide between leaving or staying in a damaging or toxic relationship because you have too much invested in it.
There are m any situations where you have to act for the greater good for yourself and others, no matter how hard it may initially be to do so. We should always consider that the long term rewards of taking action often outweigh the benefits of doing nothing.
Change can be hard to pursue and harder still to accept, but failing to act, failing to decide to change will always leave you unfulfilled and unhappy in the end.