What would you do?

1. Roe v. Wade might be overturned. If it is and the issue is turned over to the states, would your firm’s insurance include a benefit to cover the cost of a team member crossing state lines to get an abortion?

2. We have a midterm election coming up and employees want to talk politics at work. Do you give them space for that?

3. Markets are down and your cash flow is tight. Do you take a pay cut as the owner, spread the pain by having everybody take a pay cut, or just cut people?

4. A long-term, loyal employee who’s 60 years old is no longer justifying their pay as the company has outgrown them. Do you let them go to make room for someone half their age, who can do twice the work at 75% of the pay?

As a leader, you are called upon to make difficult decisions. And it might be tempting to default to the simplistic “do the right thing.” Unfortunately, the right thing to you could be anathema to other stakeholders.

Making Difficult Decisions
As recently as 10 years ago, it was easier for leaders to make decisions behind the scenes and not worry that their “difficult decisions” would get blasted on Twitter or the Senate floor. Today, we live in a polarized, politicized and culture-war world that lets nobody off the hook.

Whether it’s Disney and Governor DeSantis, Spotify and Joe Rogan, the Board of Twitter and Elon Musk, or a response to the Supreme Court’s leaked draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, few leaders will escape having to make decisions that will upset a portion of their stakeholders.

You might think this is just a “big company” problem. It’s not. Companies of every size are dealing with vocal employees and stakeholders who can’t just “turn off” social, political, and cultural issues when they get to the office.

So how can you make the “best” decision in a world that is just waiting to pounce on you?

I explored this question in a recent podcast with Eric Pliner, the CEO of YSC Consulting and the author of a new book, Difficult Decisions: How Leaders Make the Right Call with Insight, Integrity, and Empathy.

Three-Step Plan
Based on our conversation, here’s a three-step plan to help you find your backbone and work through making difficult decisions.

1. Be clear on what is the decision to be made. The first step in making a difficult decision is to make sure you have correctly framed and captured the decision you must make. What exactly is the question you have to answer? This is more nuanced than it sounds.

Let’s use Citigroup as an example. They’ve already made a public response to the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade—but not in the way you might expect.

Rather than answering the question, “Where does Citigroup stand on the issue of overturning Roe v. Wade?” they instead answered a more company-specific question. They essentially answered, “If Roe v. Wade is overturned and each state gets to decide if abortion is legal, how might that affect our health care benefits offering?”

In answering the second question, Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser said, “We’ve covered reproductive healthcare benefits for over 20 years. And our practice has also been to make sure our employees have the same health coverage, no matter where in the U.S. they live. So, to that end, we’ve had a practice of reimbursing travel for many years. We respect everyone’s views on this subject,” according to CNBC’s report from Citigroup’s April 26 shareholder meeting.

By deciding that Citigroup will reimburse travel expenses if an employee has to travel out of state to get an abortion in a state where it’s legal, Citigroup did not make a statement on where they stand on overturning Roe v. Wade. Specifically, Fraser said, “I want to be clear that this benefit isn’t intended to be a statement about a very sensitive issue.” In other words, Citigroup leaned on its past benefits practice of ensuring uniformity of health coverage across the United States and framed its decision with that prime objective in mind.

Will Citigroup’s decision please everybody? No. But the key here is Citigroup was very thoughtful in determining what was the real question they needed to answer. Same goes for you. On your future difficult decisions, take time to think through what exactly you need to answer. By doing so, you may prevent needless divisiveness.

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