Disagree and Commit – What does it really mean and how to apply it?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you disagree with a decision made by senior management, but you still need to communicate it to your employees?

This is a challenging situation, and it’s important to handle it with both professionalism and integrity. An approach that can be helpful in these situations is called “disagree and commit.”

Disagree and commit is a concept associated with former Intel CEO Andy Grove, popularized by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. It means that even if you disagree with a decision, you should commit to executing it to the best of your ability. This is because, ultimately, a decision has been made, and it’s important to move forward as a team. Of course, this relates to decisions that are legal and respectful.

In the past few months, we have met many managers who found it challenging to communicate the decision of returning to the office after a long period of working from home. In some cases, the managers themselves did not agree with the decision, which made it much more difficult for them to communicate it with authenticity. This is only one example of a sensitive message that managers find challenging to communicate – a message that requires them to disagree and commit.

Here are some tips for how managers can communicate effectively in a disagree and commit situation:

  • Express your concerns privately: If you have concerns about a decision, first express them to senior management privately. This can help ensure that you understand their reasoning and that they understand your perspective.
  • Communicate the decision clearly: When communicating the decision to your employees, do so clearly and with transparency. Explain the rationale behind the decision, why it was made, and be open to answering any questions or concerns your employees may have.
  • Show empathy: Clearly demonstrate that you understand the concerns of the decision and its implications. Give specific examples of these implications, yet stay away from sharing examples of implications for you. (These may be interpreted as focusing on you instead of the team and complaining instead of committing).
  • Focus on the positive: Concentrate on the positive aspects of the decision. Try to find ways to frame the decision in a positive light and emphasize any opportunities or benefits that may come from it.
  • “My door is open”: Invite employees to privately share specific concerns with you to learn if and which tailored solutions may ease the change.
  • Set an example: Your employees are now looking at you. Set an example for your employees. If YOU too can disagree and commit to a decision, even if it’s not your preference, it can demonstrate to your employees the importance of teamwork and the ability to move forward as a cohesive unit.
  • Provide feedback: After the decision has been executed, it’s important to provide feedback to senior management. This can help ensure that they understand how the decision played out in practice and may help inform future decisions.

Returning to the challenging message of returning to work from the office, here are some messages that a manager can use to get their team’s buy-in for the decision more positively and willingly:

  • “I understand that some of you may have concerns about this decision and that after a long time, we managed to do so well when working from home, why should we change now? I also felt the same when I heard this message, so I went to management to understand why this is necessary. I received different explanations that I understood and accepted.
  • “I’m here to listen to your concerns. I know that this may be a difficult transition, and we’re committed to providing the necessary resources and support to make this transition more smooth for everyone.”

And then, after talking with your team members, consider providing feedback to senior management. Would it be helpful for them to know how the decision played out in practice? It may influence future decisions.

By following the tips above, you can navigate these sensitive situations with professionalism, integrity, and authenticity. Effectively handling situations where you disagree but still need to commit can help maintain a cohesive work environment and foster trust between you and your employees.

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