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Now Let's Go to the Replay

In 1999, after an eight-year absence, the National Football League reintroduced instant replay to professional football officiating. Thanks to improved technology, coaches can now challenge certain calls made by game referees. Let's say an official rules that a receiver made a spectacular catch resulting in a touchdown. The opposing team's coach, who's convinced that the receiver's right foot was out of bounds at the time, may contest the ruling. Refs then watch slow-motion instant replays, looking for indisputable evidence that the player stepped out of bounds. If the replays show the player's foot over the line, officials reverse the call and negate the touchdown.

In leadership, as in sports, having your decisions second guessed is unnerving. But people brave enough to disagree with you can put forth new ideas, warn you about unexpected problems, or tell you when you've made a bad call. And since you're a risk seeker with the courage to question bad decisions made by your superiors, you'll want to instill that same behavior in those people reporting to you. So what if you implement an instant replay process for your employees? In other words, give workers a safe way to challenge your calls.

Unless you show workers that you unconditionally welcome their feedback, many will balk at challenging your directives; some might have misgivings about showing disrespect, while others will fear retribution. In football, coaches initiate instant replay challenges by tossing a red flag onto the field. You could give employees flags to drop on your desk whenever they want to question a decision, thereby encouraging participation and providing bashful challengers with a fun, unthreatening way to approach you with concerns.

Only specific NFL plays are reviewable; for instance, officials can use replay to determine where exactly a runner stepped out of bounds, but pass interference claims are unchallengeable. Without similar stipulations, employees might question every decision you make. Why did you give Mary next Friday off when I asked first? But that's better than having employees wonder which issues are questionable. And if you're truly sincere about getting feedback, you need to hear it all.

One final tip: NFL coaches must initiate challenges before the next play begins; otherwise, the call stands. Your replay system should have a time restriction as well--a three-day limit, for example--to prohibit employees from allowing their issues to fester for too long.

You and NFL officials have a common goal: avoiding mistakes that harm the final outcome. But although coaches challenge from the sidelines, you need feedback from the frontlines. So freely give away your authority by introducing instant replay in your game.
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