Leadership Playbook Excerpt
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Team members may not understand why you are asking them to perform certain tasks or work a certain way. State your assumptions when you tell people what should be done. Stating assumptions gives employees an opportunity to validate or challenge your assumptions, helping you make the best possible decision to reach your desired goals and objectives.

Overview

When you present a decision to a team member, explain your reasoning behind the decision. By outlining your assumptions, you are offering context that helps the team member best execute against your goals and objectives.

Why You Should State Your Assumptions

When you explain how you’ve reached your decision, team members will have an opportunity to call out new facts or ideas that can help you make a better decision for the team. Alternatively, if team members agree with your reasoning, they will walk away with a deeper appreciation for your decision. They will respect your ability to assess a situation, break it down into facts and logical conclusions, and lead them in decisive action. Additionally, listing your assumptions gives you the opportunity to logically validate your decision: is your decision sound and based in the reality of your current situation?

How to State Your Assumptions

When describing a decision you have made, explain to team members what information you analyzed to come to your conclusion. You can frame assumptions with a statement in this format: “If we move forward with [DESCRIPTION OF YOUR DECISION], and [YOUR ASSUMPTION] is true, then we will achieve [YOUR GOAL OR OBJECTIVE].”

If you can not fill in the above blanks, you have not properly identified your assumption. As an example, I could say “If we move forward with my proposed workplace ban of open-toed shoes, and foot injuries are a common occurrence when wearing open-toed shoes, then we will achieve a lower rate of workplace injuries.” I am asserting that my decision—a ban on open-toed shows—will result in attaining my goal—fewer workplace injuries. I believe this to be true because of my assumption: currently, people are more likely to have a foot injury at work while wearing open-toed shoes.

When you break down the assumption behind your decision like this, it gives you and your team members an opportunity to assess the validity of your assumptions. Continuing the above example, you may ask me to cite workplace statistics that demonstrate a reduction in foot injuries for people wearing closed-toe shoes. You can then determine whether or not I have made a valid assumption based on the data we have.

Also note that you may have several assumptions. In those instances, you should either (a) be able to independently validate each assumption using the statement template given above, or (b) be able to validate multiple assumptions together by tying them together in a similar sentence. For example, if I have two assumptions, my statement format may look more like “If we move forward with [DESCRIPTION OF YOUR DECISION], and [ASSUMPTION #1] and [ASSUMPTION #2] are both true, then we will achieve [YOUR GOAL OR OBJECTIVE].”

If you have more than one or two assumptions, keep the message clear by writing down a list of your assumptions. Team members will then be able to reference the list of reasons you have reached your decision and can analyze each reason at their leisure. This helps you maintain clarity in communicating more complex or nuanced decisions.

Expected Results

After running through this exercise with a team member, you should both feel more confident in the decision you have made. Further, your team member will now be able to relay the reasons for your decision to their co-workers when they hear others discussing your decision. This means your team will be more aligned with your decisions and decision-making process. This approach also decreases the chances of someone misunderstanding or misinterpreting your decision. If they follow the same exercise and tie the stated assumptions to the decision and goal, they should find that the decision makes logical sense.

Example

To elaborate on our earlier example, Toby is an HR manager who is responsible for mitigating the risk of workplace injuries. After compiling company statistics on past workplace incident reports, he has reached the conclusion that the employee handbook should be updated to ban open-toed shoes. The office manager, Dana, sits near the main entrance to the office and can see what shoes everyone is wearing when they enter the building. Toby therefore decides to notify Dana of the policy so she can help remind people to wear appropriate shoes as they walk in.

Toby: Hi Dana, I have a special request. I could use your help for the next week or two in ensuring people understand and adhere to a new company policy.

Dana: Okay, Toby, what’s the policy?

Toby: I’ve decided we need to require all employees to wear closed-toe shoes while at work. If you notice anyone wearing open-toed shoes when they come into the office, please remind them that open-toed shoes are a safety issue and they need to change shoes before starting work.

Dana: Okay, I’m not sure people are going to like that, but I can remind them if that’s what you need me to do.

Toby: I appreciate it, but let me elaborate a bit on why it’s important. You can share this with people who ask you about the policy, too. I’ve been reviewing our company’s history of reported workplace incidents, and roughly 30% of injuries are foot-related. Out of those injuries, 90% of people were wearing open-toed shoes at the time they were injured.

Toby: If we move forward with this policy of banning open-toed shoes, and wearing open-toed shoes is strongly correlated to foot injuries, then we will achieve a nearly 30% decrease in workplace injuries.

Dana: Oh wow, it’s sounds like you’ve really done your homework on this! I think with those stats anyone would understand how important it is to wear proper shoes to work. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for open-toed shoes and warn people to save their toes!

Toby: Thank you, Dana! I appreciate the help. If anyone has questions about the policy or wants more information on our workplace injury statistics, please send them my way.

Research

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