Room for shades of grey and nuance - KPMG Nederland
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Room for shades of grey and nuance

Room for shades of grey and nuance

Organisations enter the danger zone when dilemmas are not discussed.

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Organisations enter the danger zone when dilemmas are not discussed or even dismissed, because they are for example seen as a sign of indecisiveness. Many organisations want to keep it clear and simple: things are black or white, with no room for shades of grey and nuance. But staff members are confronted with these nuances in practice, and if they cannot be discussed, each staff member will respond to them in their own way.

Cartoon illustration of a person looking into the well

Work pressure and fear as an obstacle to discuss dilemmas

In practice, making dilemmas discussable often proves more difficult than expected. Last year, our team conducted a culture review at a healthcare institution, because an unstable situation had arisen there in several care homes. The review revealed there was little openness in the organisation due to the high work pressure and a fear that speaking up would have repercussions. There was little time to discuss matters with each other, which made it difficult to support each other during work. Staff members were beginning to wonder who they could trust. In addition, the management did not encourage discussion and saw discussing dilemmas as something that causes delay and division. Staff members no longer dared to share their doubts and dilemmas or report matters because they feared that the management would take steps against them.

Sharing dilemmas

Scientific research shows that discussing dilemmas, norms and values is a critical success factor for achieving the desired behaviour. Dilemmas are situations in which it is not clear to the person(s) involved what is expected of them. A dilemma exists when all the alternatives have advantages as well as disadvantages.

By discussing issues, it is made visible where the norms in the organisation collide with each other or where they are insufficiently clear. Discussing them also shows the points in the organisation were there are risks of making bad choices. This is why it is important for organisations to create an open organisational culture in which dilemmas can be discussed, both within and outside your team. Especially in organisations where ‘money talks’ and the rest of the staff are usually silent, this can bring about a radical change. Embedding openness to discuss dilemmas requires more than including it as a fixed item in work meetings and performance assessment interviews. It is obviously good to regularly draw attention to it. But the most important thing is to ensure that when decisions are made, there is room for expressing doubts and people dare to challenge each other.

Would you like to know how you can make dilemmas discussable? Please feel free to contact us about this issue; we are happy to discuss it with you.

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